Dating back to 1610, Wadham College is steeped in the rich traditions of its British locale. When tasked with intervening within this site on Oxford University’s campus, renowned London-based architect Amanda Levete knew exactly what the prestigious institution needed. With her studio AL_A, she crafted not one but two new additions on the historic grounds that prioritize transparency, lightness and contemporaneity for a cohort of undergraduate students.
The resulting structures — dubbed the William Doo Undergraduate Centre and Dr. Lee Shau Kee Building respectively — connect to one another to provide over 2,200 square metres of space for a state-of-the-art centre, replacing an existing 1951 edifice. “These two buildings,” explains Levete, whose scheme took top place in an invited competition in 2018, “are designed to radiate openness.”
The William Doo Undergraduate Centre was conceived with the college’s 450 undergraduate and 250 graduate students in mind. AL_A oriented the ample work and study spaces near more social programs, including a cafe, bar and junior common room to support “changes in the way students work and socialize.”
Within the Access Centre, meanwhile, the architects situated accommodations (designed for a three- to four-night stay for prospective students) on the upper storeys while seminar areas and a music room occupy the light-filled ground floor.
Though the welcoming buildings meet at their second level, it’s the darting internal red stair that really weaves the complex together. It’s a graphic counterpoint to the warm wood cladding and pale, wide-plank floors within. (Hints of crimson — a nod to Wadham’s crest — appear throughout in millwork and furnishings.) A custom glass and metal skin further knit the joined buildings, interspersed with ample glazing allowing light to flood the interiors with light while giving each edifice its own distinctive expression.
Outside, a generous stairway doubles as an amphitheatre of sorts, with integrated lighting illuminating the treads at night and facing the lush courtyard just beyond. The path also leads up to the undergraduate centre’s main entrance, another thoroughfare across the campus. Together, the luminous structures create a striking new beacon for the campus that feels both at home amongst the medieval and 17th-century fabric and wholly unique.
“Modest in scale, but high in aspiration,” Levete says of the new buildings, “they express the liberal and egalitarian values of the College and create a sense of belonging for students and staff.”
Two connected but distinct new buildings are a welcoming beacon for incoming students at Wadham College.