University College Boathouse Oxford

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Location: Oxford

Client: University College Oxford

Project Year: 2008

Cost: Over £2m

The original 19th Century University College boathouse succumbed to arson in 1999. It took the College almost eight years, partly owing to difficulties related to the finding of solutions acceptable to the planners, before they organized an invited design competition to replace the former Grade II listed structure.

Creatively, the design concept for the new Boathouse draws upon two main principles, which are directly inspired by the sport of rowing. Firstly, the boats, the oars, the water, all exhibit unique characteristics which are manifested in the copper roof. The goal was to achieve a sort of blade cutting the sky. The roof, like the shell of an inverted boat, stretches over the entire building to provide shelter over the rowers and spectators. Strategic penetrations through it allow streams of light to filter into core areas. Keeping the roof as thin as possible and cantilevering it out from the building gives uninhibited views to all sides and directs focus to the building’s surroundings.

Secondly, the ground level of the building had to carry a lot of mass for storage and security reasons, not least to prevent the occurrence of another arson attempt. In working with such mass, it seemed important to open the building up at key points to ensure that it could also provide a welcome to the public. The insertion of a void through the solid base, extending vertically right through the building, creates a space into which the landscape is allowed to enter, while exposing the activities inside to the surroundings. This atrium is an active place through which all circulation passes, and whose generosity opens up views throughout the building.

The glazed clubroom is an important extension of this space. Breaking free from the louvered first floor, it propels itself out from the main mass of the building towards the water. Flanked on two sides by the expansive terraces atop the brick lower mass, it is a privileged vantage point, giving the occupants a lively view of the river and all that is happening on and beside it. The boathouse is a sporting facility that lifts its mass just above the ground - it is the shell of a boat, allowing water to pass beneath it while providing both shelter as well as interactive space for participation in the river’s events.

The design had to meet the practical constraints imposed by the various authorities involved and a year-long discussion took place with the local planning authority and the Environment Agency. In particular the entire site is on a flood plain, as well as providing a home for protected wetland species

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External View

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Interior

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Interior

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