Campus quad re-defined for collaboration with the wider world

The Oxford Institute of Charity will be situated within a new integrated complex in Oxford. The scheme will be called the Gradel Quadrangles after the principal donor. New College built the first quadrangle – so historically typical of British university campuses – way back in 1403. This new architectural interpretation of the campus quad is designed with collaboration in mind. It is a three-way spatial conversation between institution, city and nature.

New College Warham Building Quad sketch

The Great Quad, 1403

Wykeham was a prolific and passionate builder. His vision for the College was of an integrated complex: Chapel, Hall, Muniment Tower, Library and a range for tutors and students to live and work in, all built around a quadrangle. This was the first time a college had been set in this way, and it became a model for colleges in the future and around the world. 

college architecture plan

Gradel Quads, 2019

New College was the site of the first planned quad in 1403, a model that has influenced educational institutions globally for over six hundred years. The leafy semi-suburban site offers the opportunity to reimagine the quad as a model for a learning community for the twenty-first century – departing from the quad’s closed origins and seeking a contemporary interpretation that enjoys a fluid and open relationship with the surrounding city and nature.

The landscape and building plans are equivalent, like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Where the college’s territory was historically an introverted garden, in the new campus it has become one half of a conversation, marking a shift in the way the institution engages in a dialogue with nature and the city beyond.

Alongside new student accommodation, the project also contains a student study space, music hall and new facilities for the adjacent New College School, a boys’ preparatory school. A tower and gatehouse complete the composition that Historic England has described as ‘one of the very few instances where contemporary design can be considered genuinely outstanding’.

The New Quad project provides an opportunity to consider our approach to architecture at a larger scale.

David Kohn Architects

The design touched on three key areas of interest: Agglomerative buildings, spatial institution as metaphor, and landscape as architecture. 

Oxford-IoC Saville Rd, Aerial View

Agglomerative Buildings

Buildings are made of other buildings. The quad provides a means to exploring these ideas at an urban, institutional scale. As a building type made of other buildings, quads suggest how cities might not only be made of streets and houses but also of agglomerative institutional structures that provide intermediary worlds that are still whole within themselves – cities within cities. 

Institution as Metaphor 

Institutions embody the relationships of their members, one to another, and to the wider world. The architecture of institutions both enable these relationships to be sustained and become metaphorical of them. The architects are interested in how architecture can also embody institutional change and therefore how its form can offer greater permeability, ambiguity and openness without fragmentation.

Great Quad walls

The exterior walls of the Great Quad divided inside from outside, the institutional self from the Other, while its interior walls bound the individual to the collective. The arrival of Garden Quad connected the two walls together, the exterior boundary became contiguous with the quad’s internal elevation such that the city and the individual are reconnected whilst still kept apart.

With the new quad, a meandering boundary suggests forces are at play. The line is less an act of division than the membrane between two liquids. The architecture and institution are in a constant state of flux.

West Quad Oxford - architecture for collaboration

Landscape as Architecture

Buildings are too often designed in isolation to their immediate territories. Campus quads are usually enclosed spaces separate to the outside world. By contrast, the landscape of the project defines the architecture and vice versa – the landscape is architecture. This quality is most pronounced when passing from one quad to another. The Gradel Quads flatten thresholds so there is a near continuous interior that is both public and private in character. This allows for an institutional life that is at once both part-of and distinct from the city that surrounds it and offers lessons for other urban spaces.

For more information about the design, please see the architect’s original article at :

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