St Catherine’s College

A modernist masterpiece creates new commons aloft the Music Meadows

A key landscape feature of Arne Jacobsen’s original design is the transition from the formal domain of the college into the wider semi-natural landscape beyond. The composition of buildings and courtyards forms a podium, which at its outer extents is articulated as a 600mm change in level stepping down into a grass sward and the flood plain of the River Cherwell beyond.


To provide a sense of consistency across the masterplan we worked with this liminal device creating  a new meadow which visually connects with the Music Meadow to the north. This defines the extent of the formal landscape, announces the new Graduate Centre and frames longer views.

Existing footpaths are retained with new paths extended to serve the new residential block. A low upstand brick wall forms an edge to all the paths which combined with the 600mm level change will protect the new development from flood water from the River Cherwell in accordance with EA requirements. These low upstands were detailed to match the slim clay brick walls that characterise both the Jacobsen and Hodder schemes.

The new meadow to the north west of the residences is excavated to roll gently down to the bottom of the existing ditch, providing flood compensation. Wild flower meadows were seeded and locally renowned Snakes Head Fritillary planted as plugs. The new circular Graduate Centre is positioned in the lower meadow and by physically separating it from the orthogonal framework of paths and datums it echoes the Jacobsen 'object’ type buildings to the south of the site; the Music House and Squash Court.

The Graduate Centre floor level is raised compared to the residences for reasons of flood protection and a new paved entrance 'plinth' is proposed that connects it to the path. This Plinth is defined by the orthogonal geometry of Hodder’s green corridor to the south and provides a logical desire line from the footpath. The entrance plinth will accommodate a void below, formed with load bearing void formers, that will accommodate water during times of extreme flooding as part of the flood compensation proposal.

The seating wall features or 'niches' that characterise the Hodder landscape design, and that originate in the Jacobsen scheme, which combine a free-standing brick wall with a cantilevered timber seat, are adapted to the new scheme to continue to the express the ‘rhythm’ of the plan and offer a valuable amenity for students.

 (Churchman Thornhill Finch)
 (Churchman Thornhill Finch)