Located in the UK with its origins in the late Saxon period, Oxford is packed to the brim with heritage, history and architecture. The medieval university buildings are some of the best-preserved buildings that add to the charm of the place. Oxford is hence, a compact treasure box of architectural gems from classical to modern. 

Below are a few such architectural treasures that will arouse the curiosity of a travelling architect. 

1. The Story Museum, Oxford

The result of the transformation of three disjointed and run-down buildings into the quirkiest and mystical museum, this reimagined museum in Oxford brings famous stories to life. Visitors can walk through these stories and experience them themselves. Just like the oak wardrobe leading to Narnia, every corner is a new world to explore. 

The thermal insulation of the building, the use of various colours in the interiors to stimulate people of all ages and the conservation of architectural materials and features of the previous buildings are a few notable aspects of the museum. 

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2. The Hertford Bridge, Oxford

The Hertford Bridge is a covered skyway that connects an administrative building and a student accommodation building of the Hertford college over New college lane. It has been called the Bridge of Sighs due to its similarity with the bridge in Venice but it was unintended to create a replica. 

A visitor can only experience the bridge from the street level, with eyes automatically drawn to the varying shapes of its elegant windows and the coat of arms at its centre. A play with lighting creates diverse ambiances around the bridge at different times of the day. 

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3. The Divinity School, Oxford

The Divinity School is a must-see gothic perpendicular medieval structure, creating a divine experience with its tall windows and intricate carvings. The Gothic vaulted ceiling is the most striking feature of the school. Probably the largest groin vault in the country, it consists of four hundred and fifty-five sculptural roof-bosses with four hanging pendants in each bay, elaborately designed by William Orchard. 

The school is a collection of symbols and ideas of people and hence acts as an important indicator of the changing attitudes and beliefs of the society. The north wall, consisting of an elaborate 17-century gothic doorway by Christopher Wren gives access to the Sheldonian theatre.

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4. The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

A striking example of Victorian Gothic architecture, the museum was heavily influenced by the ideas of art critic, John Ruskin, who believed that energies of the natural world should shape Architecture. The glass and iron roof, inspired by the famous Crystal Palace is a striking feature. 

The cast-iron columns, ornamented with wrought ironwork in the spandrels representing branches of different tree species add to the beauty along with the 126 decorative rock columns, capitals and corbels carved into plants, that surround the court perimeter. 

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5. Keble College, Oxford

William Butterfield was convinced that he needed to seek a new form of Gothic which would convey eternal truths and express the spirit of age, rather than purely imitating the features of existing notions of Gothic architecture. He made the most of the modest site, pushing buildings to the side to provide views of quads. The chapel is the highest and most ornate building. 

The library and hall fall next in the skyline, followed by the residential buildings. The repetitive motifs in the exteriors and interiors of the building add to the sense of unifying vision. The buildings with bold, Germanic facades and the use of patterned brickwork, is now a Grade 1 listed building.

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6. Bodleian Library, Oxford

One of the oldest library buildings in Europe, regarded as a masterpiece of English Gothic Architecture, The Bodleian Library occupies a group of five buildings: the 15th century Duke Humphrey’s Library, the 17th century Schools Quadrangle, the 18th century Clarendon Building and Radcliffe Camera, and the 21st-century Weston Library. Since the 19th century, several underground stores have been built. 

The massing of these buildings makes it the heart of the University. A tunnel connecting the Old and New Bodleian runs under broad Street. Keeping up the charm of Oxford, the buildings have rough surfaced rubble walls. The main entrance of the library consists of a door with the coat of arms of several Oxford colleges.

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7. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The Ashmolean Museum is the oldest in Britain. It is attached to the rear of a Gothic Revival building by Charles Robert Cockerell, The University galleries. The new building can be hardly seen from the streets, but once inside, the large central atrium featuring a grand staircase with five gently curving flights to the top floor, provides a grand welcome. 

Depending on the chosen route to experience the museum, different narratives for object interpretations are developed. Natural light is filtered vertically from a sky well through the interconnecting double-height galleries of the building. The museum was awarded a RIBA award in 2010. 

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8. Blenheim Palace, Oxford

A monumental homage to the duke of Marlborough, the Blenheim palace is an example of Baroque architecture. The vast scale of the exterior is balanced by prominent towers at the four corners of the main building, each with sculptured finials carved by Grinling Gibbons. The landscape is enhanced by adding man-made undulations, regulating the course of River Glyme, and later adding two man-made lakes. This is seen as one of the greatest examples of naturalistic landscape design. 

The building with its framing colonnade, eclectic details and grandiose structure, is a fitting symbol of English power. The clerestoried great hall, massive portico and the marble door and window frames are some of the notable interior features. 

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9. Radcliffe Square, Oxford

Radcliffe Square is a square in central Oxford, England. The square is cobbled, laid to grass surrounded by railings in the centre, and is pedestrianized. The central piece of the square is home to the Radcliffe Camera and in the north is the Bodleian Library. These two buildings are connected through an underground tunnel. 

At the southern side is the University church of St. Mary the Virgin, with its tall spires. No modern buildings can be seen from the square and hence it is a great filming location for period dramas. 

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10. Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

The Cathedral is the College Chapel as well as the cathedral church for the Diocese of Oxford. It is an example of Romanesque and English Gothic architecture. The church consists of altars, vaults and cloisters and stained glass windows enhance the interiors. The cathedral incorporated the technique of filling infused white marble with black cement. Behind the choir stalls is an extensive run of ironwork by Skidmore.

The ceiling is a piece of late Perpendicular work, with beautifully detailed pendants. This was designed by William Orchard and consists of a dozen pendants linked by vaulting ribs that intersect to create eight-pointed star shapes.  

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11. Holywell music room, Oxford

The Holywell music room is an 18th-century jewel in the heart of medieval Oxford. It provides an acoustic perfection that stood the test of time. It is the oldest purpose-built music room in Europe and hence Britain’s first concert hall. The audience sits in the U-shaped music hall, flat-floored and slant roofed, with a view of the podium behind which is an ancient organ by John Donaldson. 

The interior of the music room is simple and minimal but the acoustic effects it produces are outstanding. 

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12. Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford

One of the most recognisable landmarks of Oxford, the Sheldonian theatre boasts a 360° panoramic view of the city with its eight-sided cupola. The Emperor heads proudly sit atop the stone pillars of the boundary wall, guarding the entrance. Wren created a complex timber roof structure with interlaced beams and trusses to spread the load of the large span roof, supporting an upper floor without a need for columns. 

For many years, Sheldonian theatre had the widest unsupported floor in the world and was considered a marvel of architectural engineering. The roof is accessible via a staircase that leads to the dome over the main ceiling. The dome consists of an octagonal cupola that provides a view of the soaring spires of Oxford.  

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13. Oxford Castle and Prison, Oxford

The large and partly ruined Norman medieval castle is located on the western side of central Oxford. Most of the wooden motte was replaced with stone in the late 12th century. Keeping the historic character of the castle intact, The Oxford castle and prison was redesigned to accommodate contemporary restaurants, bars, a hotel and a visitors center. The daunting prison cells were converted to hotel rooms. 

Modern materials are used to highlight and complement the old buildings. Ventilation and fire strategies were incorporated to allow the use of the prison door as a feature of the hotel. The St. George’s tower pre-dates the remainder of the castle and is presently used as a watchtower. 

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St. George’s Tower – the oldest building in Oxford. ©www.getoutwiththekids.co.uk 
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14. Abingdon on Thames, Oxford

Abingdon on Thames is a market town 6 miles to the south of Oxford. The town has a wealth of architecture. The old Abingdon Abbey consists mostly of remains but the Benedictine Abbey is worth exploring. Abbey buildings are 600-year-old medieval buildings and A baroque building, The Abingdon museum can also be seen. 

The Abbey Gateway, St Nicholas Church, Abbey Buildings, Trendell’s Folly, The Lost Abbey Trail, St Helen’s Church, Long Alley Almshouses are some other architectural and historic landmarks of the place. 

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15. Carfax Tower, Oxford

The only remains of a 12th-century church that stood right in the centre of Oxford, The Carfax tower reaches a height of 74 feet (23 metres). The tower’s peak provides a view of the rest of the city and can be accessed with a flight of 99 steps of a spiralling green staircase made from metal. One will be able to observe that the buildings in the city centre are roughly the same height due to the law preventing any structure from going above the Carfax tower in this part of the city. 

At street level, one can admire the tower’s old fashioned clock and arched portal. The ‘quarter boys’, which are mechanical figures, hammer the bells every 15 minutes. The tower is officially known as St. Martin’s tower. 

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References

  1. Dawson, S. (n.d.). 20 Must-Visit Attractions in Oxford. [online] Culture Trip. Available at: https://theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/england/articles/20-must-visit-attractions-in-oxford/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2021].
  2. www.planetware.com. (n.d.). 14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Oxford | PlanetWare. [online] Available at: https://www.planetware.com/tourist-attractions-/oxford-eng-oxf-mh.htm [Accessed 10 Apr. 2021
  3. Experience Oxfordshire. (n.d.). Experience Oxfordshire – The official DMO for Oxford & Oxfordshire. [online] Available at: https://www.experienceoxfordshire.org/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2021].
  4. Wikipedia (2014). Wikipedia. [online] Wikipedia.org. Available at: https://www.wikipedia.org/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2021].
  5. micaarchitects.com. (n.d.). Ashmolean Museum. [online] Available at: https://micaarchitects.com/projects/ashmolean-museum. [Accessed 10 Apr. 2021].
  6.  Britain (2017). The imaginative genius of Sir John Vanbrugh, architect of Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard – Discover Britain. [online] Discover Britain. Available at: https://www.discoverbritainmag.com/the_imaginative_genius_of_sir_john_vanbrugh/[Accessed 10 Apr. 2021].
  7. oumnh.ox.ac.uk. (n.d.). The Museum’s architecture. [online] Available at: https://oumnh.ox.ac.uk/architecture[Accessed 10 Apr. 2021].
  8. micaarchitects.com. (n.d.). Keble College Landscape. [online] Available at: https://micaarchitects.com/projects/keble-college-landscape [Accessed 10 Apr. 2021].
  9. www.all-art.org. (n.d.). History of Art: Architecture and Sculpture. [online] Available at: http://www.all-art.org/Architecture/19-8.htm [Accessed 10 Apr. 2021].
  10. ‌Archello. (n.d.). The Story Museum | Purcell. [online] Available at: https://archello.com/project/the-story-museum#:~:text=Purcell%20led%20the%20development%20of [Accessed 10 Apr. 2021].
  11. ‌Richards, J.M. (1940). New Bodleian Library by Giles Gilbert Scott. [online] Architectural Review. Available at: https://www.architectural-review.com/archive/new-bodleian-library-by-giles-gilbert-scott [Accessed 10 Apr. 2021].
  12. Dawson, S. (n.d.). 20 Must-Visit Attractions in Oxford. [online] Culture Trip. Available at: https://theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/england/articles/20-must-visit-attractions-in-oxford/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2021].
  13. www.planetware.com. (n.d.). 14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Oxford | PlanetWare. [online] Available at: https://www.planetware.com/tourist-attractions-/oxford-eng-oxf-mh.htm [Accessed 10 Apr. 2021].
Author

Inspired by architecture and filled with a passion for writing, MeghaSubodh is an Architecture student pursuing her studies in RV college of Architecture, Bangalore. Influence of people, culture and climate on Architecture is an area that evinces much interest in her. She is desirous of giving voice to Architecture through her writings and is consistently striving to improvise herself in this field.

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