Arguably one of the most visually striking buildings on campus, the Hilda Besse is described as having every part related to another; the faceted concrete cladding of the exterior encapsulates the family of partitions within it. The building contains all of the core college social spaces, including the dining hall, bar and common rooms. It also contains the college kitchens and maintenance stores.

Purcell was appointed to completely refurbish the building and to ensure the protection of the building going forward. Sensitive new elements will be incorporated where appropriate so that this wonderful structure continues to sit at the heart of St Antony’s for many years to come. To facilitate the build process, temporary buildings are being provided to house the kitchens, dining hall and common rooms.

The building was designed as a single entity with all of the services encapsulated within its structure and very little space for increased capacity. In addition to this, the floor slabs are constructed from post-tensioned concrete; new penetrations are not straightforward. Servicing at every level, from the provision of fire alarms to providing compliant drainage systems has been complex.

By working closely with the building and understanding the nature of its structure as well as similar concrete, twentieth-century structures, Purcell has expertly resolved design and conservation challenges, gaining listed building consent for positive change. We commissioned and managed a series of specialist and intrusive surveys to further understand the construction and establish the existence ceiling voids, existing penetrations, and floor make-ups. This approach has validated our Stage 3 design, giving us an increased level of certainty as we move into Stage 4, reducing risk and increasing programme certainty as we move towards implementation of our creative solutions.