University of Oxford

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Oxford University Gazette, 26 February 2009: University Agenda

CONGREGATION 24 March 2 p.m.

¶ Members of Congregation are reminded that written notice of any intention to vote against any of the resolutions below, signed in each case by at least two members of Congregation, must be given to the Registrar by noon on Monday, 16 March (see the note on the conduct of business in Congregation at the end of 'University Agenda').

Voting on Resolutions authorising use of space in Radcliffe Observatory Quarter

Explanatory Note


The Radcliffe Observatory Quarter (ROQ) is a 4.25 hectare site in central Oxford, bound by the Woodstock Road, Somerville College, Walton Street, Observatory Street, and Green Templeton College. It was acquired by the University in 2003, with the intention of developing an integrated campus, capable of phased development, which offers expansion space for the collegiate University over the next twenty years.

Following the acquisition of the site, the University resolved that a formal masterplan should be drawn up due to the significance of the site both to the University and the City. The masterplan is a formal planning tool that agrees with the City planning authorities some outline principles, within which later detailed plans can be put forward. It sets out a broad picture for the entire site, establishing an overall structure so that development does not occur in a piecemeal fashion and all parts of the site relate to one another in a coherent manner. The draft masterplan was developed during 2005 in conjunction with Rafael Viñoly Architects, who were appointed as masterplanning architects in April 2005, and was approved by Council on 22 May 2006.

The draft masterplan not only covers a number of complex planning, conservation and technical points, but it also takes the opportunity to outline the academic strategy behind the development, whose general principles can be summarised as follows:

(a) The development must work as a whole, functioning as an integrated campus rather than a series of individual independent facilities;

(b) The development must be capable of phased development and contain the flexibility required to respond to changing needs as the academic strategy continues to evolve over time;

(c) The initial phases of the development will provide space for a number of facilities, including a new institute building for Mathematics, phase one of a Humanities centre, a Humanities library, and additional space for University Administration. Subsequent development zones will be constructed as the academic need arises and funding permits. There are to be no laboratory-based facilities on site.

Once Council had approved the draft masterplan, the University continued formal discussions with the City Council and other statutory consultees, such as English Heritage. The revised masterplan was approved by Council on 12 February 2007. A copy of the plan, which was submitted for public consultation between 5 March and 20 April 2007, and which was reviewed by the City Council in September 2008, can be viewed at Bennetts Associates were selected by means of an architectural competition to design the Humanities centre and library in spring 2008, and appointed to develop the design for the library and the first phase of the Humanities centre shortly thereafter. Their approach, whilst adhering to the basic principles of the masterplan, created a more visible public face for the library and softened the formal axial line across the site.


The allocation of space in the ROQ development follows the existing formal University process, as laid down in the Standing Orders for University Functional Buildings and Sites (the Grey Book). This stipulates that all space in University buildings is controlled by the University and that space allocated to any University user can be withdrawn and reallocated by the Buildings and Estates Subcommittee (BESC) for other uses, subject to any conditions imposed by the funding bodies that provided capital for the funding of the building. This general principle, that the use of space is not a permanent right but an arrangement that may be reviewed as academic needs dictate, is important to the ROQ site as it underlies the strategy to respond flexibly to changes in the academic estate over time, as laid out in the draft masterplan.

In the case of the ROQ development, all space allocations go through a multi-stage process. The first stage is discussion by the ROQ Project Board, a committee established in 2005 by PRAC to provide further oversight for the project. Its members are the Proctors and Assessor, the Pro-Vice-Chancellors for Planning and Resources, Education and Research, the Heads of Division (except Medical Sciences), the Chief Executive of OUP, Bodley's Librarian, the Chair of BESC, and the heads of Estates, Development and Planning. Once the allocation has been discussed and recommended by the ROQ Project Board, the next stage is decision and ratification by BESC, who may authorise an allocation of up to 300 sq.m. Any allocation above that size is referred onwards to PRAC and, if the proposed site exceeds 1000 sq.m. or a building is over 600 sq.m., PRAC asks Council to recommend it to Congregation.


The set of resolutions that is being brought to Congregation is for the approval of four sites as part of the first phase of the ROQ development: a new Mathematical Institute building, phases one and two of the new Humanities centre, the allocation of the former Outpatients' building to the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, and the allocation of the Main Infirmary Building to University Administration.

The new Mathematical Institute building will provide a very significant provision for Mathematics, enabling them to move from St Giles and three other sites to a new purpose-built facility. The building is being designed by masterplanning architects Rafael Viñoly.

Phase one of the Humanities centre will house English, History, Philosophy and Theology; it will also provide space for the Divisional Office and shared divisional research space. It is being designed by Bennetts Associates, and their initial designs, which formed part of their competition submission, can be viewed on the University Web site at The provision and timetable for future phases of the centre are still to be confirmed. However, as the plans include the construction of a shared Humanities library in the basement of phases one and two, a decision to allocate the requested space to phase one necessarily implies that phase two will, in due course, be allocated the neighbouring plot from which it can access the shared library. Approval for both allocations is therefore being requested at this time.

The recommendation to allocate the former Outpatients' building to the Ruskin and the Main Infirmary Building to University Administration was made by the ROQ Project Board following an extensive process of review against a specific set of criteria between May and October 2008. Both recommendations were made on the proviso that full feasibility studies need to be carried out. A key matter of consideration during the review process was the particular nature of these two buildings. Not only does their listed status constrain their use by restricting the level of alteration permitted, but their iconic status makes it appropriate to consider issues such as the opportunity to act as the public face of the University and their potential use by the local community.

The case for the Ruskin was predicated on the fact that the School would benefit strongly from being on a sole site, where it could meet the expectations of developing its graduate programme. Six alternative sites had been explored to date without finding a solution. The Outpatients' building was considered especially suitable in view of its good northern light. Moreover, space that might be wasted or inconvenient for other users could be efficiently used by the Ruskin, which, given the constraints on the rearrangement of internal space as a result of listing regulations, was a significant factor. The department already offered evening art classes to the public, which would continue in the new space, as well as public exhibitions, thereby meeting the requirements for public access. The move would also free valuable sites on the High Street and Bullingdon Road.

Among several candidates for the Main Infirmary Building, two were short-listed by the ROQ Project Board: Music and University Administration. The original vision for Music had been to provide a separate new building on the ROQ site rather than including it within the new Humanities centre because of the need to create live music during the working day. The listed Infirmary Building offered the chance to create an excellent public face for Music, with the Bate Collection and the Gamelan open to the public and recitals in St Luke's Chapel, while its proximity to the Ruskin meant that it would act as a fine arts quarter and a fitting entrance to the Humanities site. The case presented for University Administration was to accommodate the University's senior officers and the staff who support them in a building that was more appropriate for the public face of the University and more attractive to visitors and benefactors. The proposal would also help consolidate staff in fewer locations, thereby freeing accommodation for other academic uses and contributing to overall improvement in the efficiency of the University's administration.

The Board decided in favour of the case put forward for University Administration. There was a strong argument that the public face of the University should be in a more historic building than Wellington Square. Raising funds to restore a listed building would be easier than raising them to build a new administration block, and, especially following the launch of the Campaign, it was felt that the public face of the University should be equivalent to the public face of its colleges and other global universities. Fundraising for a new Music Faculty would, by contrast, always attract interest. It was also felt that the needs of Music would be better served by a purpose-built new building. Not only would a new building allow the Faculty more space for future development, in a way that the listed Infirmary Building could not, but it would also provide space with a high enough technical specification for modern use. In making their recommendation, the Board recognised that Music should be given the opportunity to develop a plot on the ROQ site, and that a consequence of not allocating the historic building would be that another plot should be considered for them. Estates would therefore proceed to develop a plan for Music via a feasibility study and a site would be considered on that basis.


Further information about the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, including the history of the site and details of the proposed development, can be found on the University Web site at The Web site is part of a wider communications strategy for the ROQ development, which is designed to keep members of Congregation, the wider University, and the local community informed about the latest developments.

Text of Resolutions concerning the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter

(i) That approximately 7,000 sq.m be allocated to the Mathematical Institute as the site of a new building for the Institute;

(ii) That approximately 10,700 sq.m be allocated as the site of a new Humanities centre and library;

(iii) That the former Outpatients' building (approximately 2,500 sq.m of gross internal area) be allocated to the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art;

(iv) That the Main Infirmary Building (approximately 2,500 sq.m of gross internal area) be allocated to the University Administration.

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