On the weekend of 18 and 19 March 2017, Exeter College formally opened Cohen Quad, its new premises on Walton Street. Named for the parents of Exeter College alumnus Sir Ronald Cohen, this new quadrangle, less than 10 minutes’ walk from the College’s historic site on Turl Street, transforms the College and allows it to provide 90 additional study-bedrooms for students, teaching and performance space, a reading room and climate-controlled storage for the College’s special collections, and a hub for social learning.
Rector Professor Sir Rick Trainor said: “The opening of Cohen Quad marks a major step forward for Exeter College, Oxford as it moves into its eighth century. One of Oxford’s major new buildings of the 21st century, Cohen Quad provides, in a beautiful environment designed by architect Alison Brooks, a wide range of services for all members of the Exeter College community, including students, fellows, staff and alumni. Cohen Quad, to which more than 4,500 alumni and friends have contributed through a financial gift, indicates the vibrancy of Exeter College and is a springboard for its ambitious plans for the future.”
Under the leadership of former Rector Dame Frances Cairncross, Exeter College set out in 2007 a strategy to provide world class education within a collegiate environment: that is, a place where students and academics live and work alongside each other, interacting with each other both inside and outside the classroom, within inspiring buildings and spaces. The addition of Cohen Quad is the biggest single physical expansion of the College since its earliest years when it moved to its Turl Street site in 1315. It maintains a 700-year tradition of students and fellows across academic disciplines living and studying alongside each other and benefitting from each other’s knowledge and experience.
Cohen Quad provides study-bedrooms in the centre of Oxford and enables the College to guarantee up to three years’ accommodation for its undergraduate students. This will have a significant impact on encouraging students to apply to Exeter College and the University of Oxford. It will help to alleviate pressure on Oxford’s private housing market and will provide students with pristine and affordable accommodation designed around the needs of modern students, including 30-week rather than 52-week lets. Cohen Quad therefore makes an Oxford education both more affordable and more enjoyable.
In addition to the study-bedrooms for students, Cohen Quad also has three “family kitchens” in which students can socialise and prepare and eat meals together, an auditorium for concerts, lectures and dramatic performances, a social and learning hub known as the Learning Commons, a café, teaching and seminar rooms, fellows’ teaching sets, a reading room and climate-controlled storage space for the College’s archives and special collections, a student common room, and two external quadrangles. All Exeter students, fellows and staff are welcome to use the space and students from other colleges who take tutorials with Exeter fellows will also be taught on site.
In 2011, Exeter College selected Alison Brooks Architects (ABA) to design the new site following an extensive design competition. The first female architect and principal director of an architectural practice to work for an Oxford college, Alison Brooks’ design was a reinterpretation of the traditional collegiate quadrangle, with a hub for social learning at its heart. Drawing on the design influences within the local neighbourhood of Jericho, the history of both Exeter College and Ruskin College (the latter, now concentrated in Headington, previously occupied the site of Cohen Quad), and the needs of 21st century scholars, ABA have delivered a building that is stunning, uplifting, and inspiring.
Alison Brooks said: “Cohen Quad has exceeded our expectations. Even though we model in 3D, there are some things that have really flowered through being built and I think the proportions of the space are wonderful and feel better and more lofty than even we imagined.”
As part of the celebrations over the weekend, Exeter College paid tribute to the donors who together gave £18m towards the creation of Cohen Quad and a total of £46m to Exeter College in the period running up to and immediately following the 700th anniversary of the College’s foundation, which it marked in 2014. The lead donor to the new quadrangle is Sir Ronald Cohen (1964, PPE) and it is in memory of his parents that Cohen Quad is named. The dedication as you walk into the quadrangle reads “In honour of Michael and Sonia Cohen, who knew that education was the one thing that could not be taken away from you”.
Sir Ronald said: “It is at Exeter College that I really learned to think. Education is the one possession that cannot be taken away and I am lucky that I can help future generations of Exeter College students to live in a collegiate environment where their minds are best nurtured and inspired. The stunning design by Alison Brooks will greatly enhance our College’s life.
“It is a building where I think your soul soars, and at the same time it has a sense of community. When you walk into the Learning Commons you can’t help but smile. I think this building is proof that architecture can affect the way you feel, and hence the way you think.”
A board of names recognises the generosity of everyone who supported Exeter College with a gift between 2006 and 2016
Students moved into Cohen Quad on Sunday 8th January ahead of the start of Hilary Term. They are delighted with the building; many regularly bring friends and family members around to see the new facilities for themselves. Isabella Neil is in her final year of an English degree at Exeter College. She said: “Anyone can see that Cohen Quad is a beautiful addition to Exeter College, but unless you get the chance to live here, it is less obvious how great an impact the new building will have on students’ everyday lives. The extra living space that Cohen Quad offers means an end to Exeter students desperately scrambling to find private housing that is ‘adequate’. We now have the option to avoid 52-week rents, hefty deposits and administration fees, and potentially difficult landlords.
“Arriving in Cohen Quad, it became immediately clear that all the photos and computer-generated renderings don’t do the building justice and, as a finalist, I can’t imagine a better place to live than Cohen Quad. Having a place to live that also has everything we need – spaces to work, eat, socialise, cook, and relax – less than 10 minutes away from the College’s Turl Street site is amazing, and makes a huge difference in what is a pretty stressful year. Everything about Cohen Quad’s design feels well thought through, and the building feels tailor-made to support Exeter’s students and staff. We are just settling in at the moment, but it is clear to see that Cohen is going to be a huge part of college life at Exeter.”
A student bedroom at Cohen Quad
In addition to Exeter College students, five Exeter College fellows have also moved into their teaching rooms at Cohen Quad and a Junior Dean, responsible for discipline and welfare, has also moved into the Quad. The fellows in residence teach classics, Spanish, English, history, and chemistry.
Professor Christina de Bellaigue, Fellow in Modern History, moved into her teaching rooms at Cohen Quad in January. She said: “As one of the Fellows who has just moved into Cohen Quad, I want to say thank you to everyone who made it possible. It’s an inspiring building to work and teach in and the views are fantastic. The building is going to bring such a new lease of life to the College. I love walking around and seeing the students at work in the Learning Commons or chatting over coffee, and I can’t wait to use the Special Collections housed on site to teach some of them.”
The celebration events over 18 and 19 March enabled donors who have given to Exeter College since 2006 to visit Cohen Quad and experience this remarkable building for themselves. They had the opportunity to hear from the architect Alison Brooks and to take a tour of the Quad, as well as talk to current students about what it is like to live and study in Cohen Quad.
Alumni were able to talk to students about their experience of Cohen Quad
The Learning Commons provides a varied space for people to meet and study
Rector Trainor (left) presented Sir Ronald Cohen and his wife Sharon with an early design sketch by architect Alison Brooks