Along with the master plan for the University of Oxford’s new Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Rafael Viñoly Architects was hired to design the masterplan’s first building, the Mathematical Institute. The new building consolidates a department that was previously spread across multiple locations to provide a new focus and identity that balances researchers’ need for privacy with the increasing importance of interdisciplinary collaboration.
In keeping with the overall master plan, the subdued exterior of the Mathematical Institute is sensitive to the historic buildings near the site while increasing the building’s environmental performance. The self-shading façade employs adjustable vertical louvers to reduce solar gain on the south and west elevations and maximisedaylight to the north and east elevations. The louvers permit ample light to enter the faculty offices while simultaneously ensuring privacy by minimizing views into the building from outside.
Like mathematics research itself, the building is somewhat introverted. The subdued exterior respects its historic context while the atrium, the social heart of the building, is light-filled and spacious with a glazed clerestory overhead. Punctuated by informal gathering spaces, the atrium stretches nearly the entire length of the building to encourage collaboration by enabling visual connections and impromptu meetings between faculty members on all floors. A series of pedestrian bridges and feature stairs provides necessary circulation and animates the multistory space.
Teaching spaces are concentrated on the mezzanine level below grade. Lecture theatres, classrooms, and seminar rooms are arranged around a large open space that serves as an informal study and social area. Natural light enters the mezzanine from the atrium above via crystalline light well structures at its base.
ADDITIONAL PROJECT INFORMATION
Mission Winning the University of Oxford’s master plan competition for the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter guaranteed Rafael Viñoly Architects PC the opportunity to design the new campus’ first building, the Mathematical Institute. The university required approximately 130,000 square feet (12,000 square meters) of faculty, teaching, and social spaces for the mathematics department, and the master plan specified a parking garage in the lowest basement level.
The Mathematics Institute had been dispersed across four different sites when Rafael Viñoly Architects was hired to design a new building for the department. The department’s existing buildings were significantly crowded and offered no further space for expansion. The dispersed community not only failed to provide a clear focal point for undergraduate teaching, but also made it difficult for the various research groups and individuals to collaborate.
In recent years the pattern of mathematics research has been changing: a sharp rise in grant income has led to the appointment of additional post-doctoral candidates, and research groups, rather than solitary scholars working away in their offices, are increasingly becoming central to the discipline. The new building will facilitate this increasingly important collaboration between researchers, while balancing the researchers’ continued needs for privacy and concentration.
Because the department had no space for lecture classes, many undergraduates never entered the main departmental buildings until their second year, and thus felt disconnected from their program of study. Approximately half of the department’s graduate students had no allocated space within the department. Furthermore, the department was faced with a significant turnover rate over the subsequent five to ten years, as senior faculty members retired—in order to maintain the strength of the department, it would need facilities that would attract top-tier candidates.
The new building provides a workplace for over 500 academics and support staff, as well as a center for the academic life of approximately 1000 undergraduates and a diverse community of research fellows and lecturers. It will also function as a recruitment tool: providing ample space for graduate students and sizable offices for senior faculty will attract top-quality candidates and increase the reputation, research, and income of the department. Finally, unifying the Mathematical Institute in a new building will also free up significant space in other buildings for other university uses.
As the first building to be constructed under the guidelines of the Rafael Viñoly Architects Radcliffe Observatory Quarter Master Plan, the new building for the Mathematical Institute is a landmark for the site and sets the stage for future development.
Design In keeping with the firm’s overall master plan for this part of the Oxford campus, the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, the Mathematical Institute is designed to conform to the “streets and blocks” layout, preserving visual corridors between the historically significant buildings on-site. Designed as two solid wings connected by glazed volume, it balances solidity and mass against transparency and lightness. The subdued exterior glazing is sensitive to the historic context, but it also increases the building’s environmental performance and balances researchers’ need for privacy in their offices with the need for daylight. The self-shading façade employs adjustable louver screens so as to minimize solar gain.
A glazed atrium and entrance lobby preserves sightlines between the Radcliffe Infirmary and the Radcliffe Observatory. Like mathematics research itself, the building is somewhat introverted: its subdued exterior respects its historic context, but the atrium, the social heart of the building, is light-filled and spacious, with a clerestory overhead to bring indirect daylight into the center of the plan. The atrium stretches nearly the entire length of the building and enables visual connections between faculty members on all floors. A series of pedestrian bridges and feature stairs provides necessary circulation, but also animate the multi-story space as people can be seen walking throughout the building.
For the purposes of security and ensuring researcher privacy, the building functions are stratified: faculty and fellow spaces (offices, boardrooms, etc.) aboveground, student spaces (classrooms, Seminar rooms and lecture theatres, etc.) belowground, with the atrium preserving visual connections between them.
Unlike many of the university’s newer offices, which are being built as flexible open-plan spaces, the Mathematical Institute has adopted a more traditional model for faculty offices, in keeping with the type of work performed. As mathematicians often require noise- and disturbance-free spaces, faculty members’ offices are acoustically isolated to maintain the required decibel levels. The self-shading louver fins on the building exterior minimize views into the building from outside, maintaining visual privacy while still permitting natural light and air (through openable windows) to enter. The faculty offices are arranged around the perimeter of the atrium, so that adjacent common rooms and informal gathering spaces can promote collaboration and impromptu meetings with students and other faculty, whenever privacy is not essential.
The offices are housed on the four aboveground floors, while all teaching areas for the Mathematical Institute are located on the belowground mezzanine level. Natural light enters the mezzanine from the atrium. The teaching rooms are grouped around a large open space, which serves as a study and social area for students. A cafeteria for students and faculty further encourage socializing and interaction in this open area. To keep teaching space disturbances to a minimum, lecture theaters are acoustically separated from the rest of the building.
A green roof and roof terrace creates additional outdoor space for informal discussion or contemplation, as well as enhancing the sustainability goals of the master plan: the sedum-planted surface increases biodiversity, improves the building’s energy performance and helps control rainwater runoff.
Site The Mathematical Institute occupies the northeast corner of the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, a new campus for the University of Oxford, located approximately one kilometer north of the town center. The campus is bordered by Woodstock Road to the northeast, the Radcliffe Observatory to the northwest, a future five-story academic building (also specified by the master plan) to the southwest, and the Radcliffe Infirmary and St. Luke’s Chapel to the southeast.
In February 2006, a comparative analysis of three possible sites within the master plan was undertaken to test which would be most suitable for the new Mathematical Institute. The current site was eventually adopted (in May 2006).
For more on the site, see the project description for the University of Oxford, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter Master Plan.
Program The building contains approximately 80,000 square feet of teaching facilities, lounge areas, offices, and computer labs. Offices comprise the majority of the building spaces, and much emphasis was placed on designing them to the highest possible standards, in a range of sizes to meet a variety of users: full professors, faculty, post-doctoral researchers, visiting faculty, emeritus professors, and graduate students. These offices, along with meeting rooms and casual interactive spaces, occupy the four aboveground floors.
The belowground mezzanine level houses the teaching and seminar spaces: a large 360-seat lecture hall, a medium 200-seat lecture hall, a small 100-seat lecture hall, and a variety of classrooms and seminar rooms. Additionally, this level also features a cafeteria and ample open space for study and socializing. This teaching level will connect directly to the main site library, once it is built.
Below the mezzanine, an underground parking garage provides loading bays for delivery vehicles and 49 parking spaces for site wide use.
Circulation The Mathematical Institute will have two equally important access routes to the building from both the North and the South. Both entrances lead to the reception desk, allowing full control over who enters the building.
The main atrium stairs are clearly visible upon entering the buildingand can be seen spanning all the way through the office floors to the fourth floor. From the reception area the wide communication stair to the mezzanine level leads students and visitors down to the teaching areas. Two vertical cores containing elevators and stairways, located in the center of the floor plate at either end of the building, provide additional vertical circulation.
The main faculty common room is located at first floor level overlooking the building entrance.This space connects the two wings of the building and provides a space for formal and informal gathering to occur.
Horizontal circulation occurs on interior corridors ringing the central atrium. On the mezzanine level, open spaces in the center of the building are large enough to accommodate both social functions and primary circulation.
The basement level car park is accessed via two vehicular lifts, located at the eastern end of the building adjacent to the ROQ site entrance from Woodstock Road.
Sustainability The building will employ a number of features for energy-efficiency and lowered carbon dioxide emissions, with a stated goal of BREEAM Excellent. The concrete piles provide ground-source cooling and heating. The sedum green roof increases the building’s insulation values, controls stormwater runoff, improves biodiversity and reduces the urban heat island effect. Rainwater and recycled graywater can be reused to irrigate the green roof and surrounding soft landscaping. Operable windows reduce the need for artificial ventilation during temperate months and allow night time cooling of the building structure. Roughly 500 bicycle parking spaces are available to encourage faculty and students to use alternative transportation (which is already popular in bike-friendly Oxford); showers are also available for bicycling faculty. And finally, a combined cooling and heating plant, will be used for greater energy efficiency and to increase the use of alternative sources of energy.
Schedule The design team for the building was assembled in May 2006, and after assessing the brief, Stage C design began that November. Stage D design began in June 2007, and this stage wrapped up with the submission of the planning application in March 2008. Construction began in the summer of 2011, with the building opening in 2013