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The University of Oxford’s Hilda Besse is a 50-year-old and grade-II listed building designed in 1971 by Architect John Partridge, of the Post-War practice, Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis.

With Purcell’s in-depth knowledge of twentieth century structures, our team are currently refurbishing the building — a project which will enhance Hilda Besse’s distinctive architectural qualities whilst ensuring its sustainable future.

Visualisation of the refurbished dining room.

Hilda Besse is a Modernist concrete-clad building that brings together St Antony’s College's community in one physical and ceremonial place. The building marries the signature style of Modernist buildings with the centuries-old Oxford tradition of long common rooms and dining halls.

The structure contains all of the college's core social spaces, including the common rooms, in addition to the college kitchens and maintenance stores. The modern twists across the building are subtle with generous provisions of natural light and the building’s long and elegant dining hall is most notable by its elaborate ceiling.

Partridge designed Hilda Besse as a single entity with all of the services encapsulated within its structure and very little space for increased capacity. Having little refurbishment throughout its lifetime, there are several issues with its fabric; including the concrete spalling in several locations, and the poor condition of the roof and kitchen.

Josh Greig, Senior Architect

Purcell have developed a sensitive proposal to repair and enhance Partridge’s original and existing building, enhancing its architectural heritage. Our proposed changes will not only repair damaged parts of the structure, but improve the usability and access across all levels.

Our team is repairing and conserving the concrete, reconfiguring and refitting the first floor kitchen, and enhancing toilet provisions. Importantly, the project is improving access across all levels by the design of a more open quad, which will provide a spacious area for events, while retaining the college's informal nature.

Our design is based on Partridge’s original drawings of the building and will enhance its significance and distinct character while future-proofing the structure for the graduates and staff to enjoy in the future.

Hilda Besse is a refined and stylish piece of Post-War architecture, one of the best HKPA ever produced – it’s about as far from brutal, as Brutalism ever got. By analysing the building's spatial and material qualities and responding to the building's rhythm and language, Purcell have delivered a sophisticated and innovative conservation project. Our work demonstrates how we are bringing parity to conservation efforts for the listed buildings of the recent past and making sure they are fit for the next 50 years.

Jon Wright, Twentieth Century Heritage Consultant

A challenge across the site has been the closure of existing dining facilities in order for construction works to be carried out. To facilitate the project, temporary buildings are being provided to house the college’s kitchens, dining hall and common room, minimising operational impact on the college.

As a building designed and constructed in the 70s, one of Hilda Besse’s issues is its thermal efficiency, and our work across the site, will improve the thermal environment for the building’s sustainable performance and for the students’ well-being.

Smaranda Ciubotaru, Architectural Assistant

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