Blavatnik School of Government: reflecting historic surroundings

The Radcliffe Observatory Quarter area of Oxford reached a milestone in its development when the Blavatnik School of Government opened its doors at the end of 2015, as Europe’s first purpose-built facility for study, research and collaboration in the field of government.

Designed by leading architects Herzog & de Meuron, the building stands at the south-western gateway to the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter. This is the former site of the Radcliffe Infirmary and the University is developing the Quarter to become a hub of multidisciplinary intellectual and student life.

The new building, designed by Herzog de Meuron, seeks to exemplify the School’s values and as such is designed to be open and engaging. It is encircled by slender glass vertical panels so that it reflects its historic surroundings while ensuring that the work and activity of the School is open and visible to all. 

Exceptional facilities

This magnificent new building provides an exceptional environment for study, teaching, research and collaboration, with two large lecture theatres (for 80 and 160 people), four flexible seminar rooms (which can be combined to accommodate up to 200 people), two private study areas, a reading room, and a café and terrace.

Offices with clear glass dividing walls and internal courtyards ensure that natural light fills the work and study spaces.  The building provides seven research team offices and 12 working group and meeting rooms.  

State-of-the-art audio-visual equipment throughout the building enables the recording and broadcast of lectures at the touch of a button, teaching spaces to be virtually linked, and connectivity with colleagues and communities around the world.

Technologies for environmental sustainability

The entire construction of the building has been designed to meet the highest standards of environmental sustainability, with innovative heating and ventilation technologies minimising energy use.

The building’s thermal mass provides exceptional cooling and heating benefits, with the exposed concrete absorbing and storing daytime heat until it can be released back when exposed to cooler air in the evening.

The ventilation is ‘mixed mode’, which means that under normal circumstances it will operate purely on natural airflow and mechanical ventilation will only kick in under more extreme weather conditions. Other measures include solar panels on the rooftop, a rainwater-harvesting tank, solar shading on the windows, and low energy, motion sensor light fittings. 

Stunning architecture

Paul Goffin, Director of Estates, said: ‘The Blavatnik School’s new building is a stunning piece of architecture and its circular shape resonates with some of Oxford’s most iconic buildings, such as the Radcliffe Camera and the Sheldonian Theatre.

It also meets the University’s stringent environmental standards and compared to existing UK buildings of similar size and use, is expected to consume 49% less energy and emit 42% less carbon dioxide. This will contribute towards our aim of reducing carbon emissions by one third by 2020.’

A few project statistics

  • Gross internal area: 8,026 square metres
  • 764,000 hours worked on site by (at the end of the project) 1500 people – the equivalent of one person working for 372 years
  • 99.8% of construction waste diverted from landfill
  • 850 tonnes of steel reinforcement, cast within 6000m3 of concrete
  • 6700 sheets of plywood
  • 100 cubic metres of oak
  • 10,300 raised access floor tiles
  • 220 internal door sets
  • Europe’s largest double-glazed window (10.5 x 3.2m)
  • 458 concrete façade units
  • 90,000 granite paviours
  • 107 photovoltaic panels

Project Team

  • Architect: Herzog & de Meuron
  • Services Engineer: Hoare Lee
  • Environmental Engineer: Hoare Lee
  • Structural Engineer: Pell Frischmann
  • Cost Consultant: EC Harris
  • Project Manager: University of Oxford Estates Services
  • Contractor: Laing O’Rourke
  • Project Completion date: December 2015