Wright & Wright Architects answer the most frequently asked questions about the Spencer Building.
Corpus Christi College is renowned for its special collections. How has Wright & Wright conceived of collections access, care, and conservation in the design of the Spencer Building? How will the building serve the collection?
As a key part of the project, it is vital that the collections are well-protected and easy for staff to access. The Special Collections Centre within the Spencer Building will provide facilities that allow scholars from the College and around the world to access the collections with ease.
The Special Collections Reading Room has been designed specifically for viewing the collection safely, with appropriate environmental control and a purpose-built desk suitable for studying manuscripts. The special collections will be stored adjacent to the readers' room, in secure archives designed to the most stringent environmental conditions appropriate for a collection of this significance.
The Spencer Building will be visible from Oriel Square and have a prominent place on College grounds; how else might the building draw users in and to the College?
The new elevation of the Special Collections Centre is an outward-facing representation of Corpus. So it should have a degree of character, yet also blend contextually and be of its time. Seen front-on and mainly from some distance away, the key elements need to be bold but simple and in forms that are legible while conveying the College’s wider civic presence. Historically, in Oxbridge college architecture, windows have come to indicate the key societal spaces, such as the main Hall, Chapel and Library.
The new Special Collections Centre will be fully accessible. A passenger lift adjacent to the main staircase will provide access to all floors. A connection into the historic library on the first floor ensures that the College's original, medieval library is also accessible. In the location of the current reception desk, overlooking the Chapel, a reader's desk compatible with a wheelchair will be provided.
The Spencer Building has widely been heralded for its high energy performance and realisation of sustainability targets. How is the project leading the way in environmental responsibility and best practices?
The building is designed to meet the stringent requirements of Passivhaus in order to provide an ultra-low energy building that requires very little space heating by providing high levels of insulation, omitting thermal bridges, specifying high performance triple-glazed windows with insulated frames, ensuring airtight building fabric and designing a mechanical and ventilation system with highly efficient heat recovery.
Passivhaus certification is typically obtained on new build projects, located in green field sites. The Spencer Building, on the other hand, retains medieval fabric on three elevations and is built on top of historic foundations. Whilst this complicates the detailing required for Passivhaus, it amplifies the building's sustainability credentials by reducing embodied carbon. Obtaining certification upon completion would be ground-breaking and the building would be at the forefront of sustainable design.
Wright & Wright often speaks about building ‘new into old’; what does this mean and how does your approach pay respect to or communicate with historic buildings and architectural heritage?
There is an imperative practical and experiential need to redevelop the library of Corpus Christi College. As a longstanding ambition of the College, the proposed scheme will safeguard its precious collections and provide improved facilities for students, Fellows and staff.
Evolved over time, with individual elements ranging from the 16th to the 20th centuries, the Corpus Christi College site forms a grouping of listed buildings of the highest significance in heritage terms. However, the dismantling of the Staircase 6 Building, itself altered over the years, opens up the spatial and architectural possibilities for the College to address this need while adding to the site’s complex, almost organic history of accretion over time. In extending this narrative, it looks backward as well as forward, as a centuries-old College reframes and expands its library to meet the challenges of the future.