The Cripps Building

The two courts which make up the Cripps Building (1966-67) face the back of New Court.

This side of New Court was not originally intended to be seen, and the land behind it was used for structures such as the 1921 bathhouse which, when it was proposed, prompted one Fellow, Sir Joseph Larmor, to ask, "What do they want baths for? They're only here for eight weeks" (at a time!) The urgent need for new student accommodation following a post-1945 expansion of numbers was met in the early 1960s through the generosity of the Cripps Foundation (hence the building's name), by the construction of two large new Courts. The architects were Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya, and their building has become a landmark in later twentieth-century architectural style and attracted many rewards.  An extensive refurbishment to the building was completed in 2014.

Features to notice:

  • The solution which the architects found to the problem set by the constriction of the site. It has a brook running through and is bounded at each end by pre-existing buildings of great importance but standing at odd angles to the main space available. In both the new Courts, previous buildings form one side, and the connection between the two is swung across the dividing brook in such a way that the potentially uncomfortable change of angle is concealed.
  • The way in which a substantial series of blocks is lightened both by the use of cloisters, allowing views towards the river and onto the Backs, and by the vertical emphasis given to the windows, which relieves the horizontal lines of the main structures. Two different types of Portland stone are used to face the building.
  • The Fisher Building, designed by Peter Boston and completed in 1987, which connects the Powell and Moya building with the rear of New Court (1831). It uses the same materials as the Cripps Building, but is otherwise an entirely original element in the Court and resolves the problems set by the difficult site. A number of large rooms offer space for music, art and seminars. The largest room is a 250-seat concert hall named after Lord Palmerston, who was Prime Minister of Great Britain during the nineteenth century. The 'rebus' of Bishop Fisher, taken from his original seal, a fish and a wheat-ear, hence Fisher, has been stamped into the tops of the leaden rain water-pipes.
  • The so-called School of Pythagoras, which was built around 1200, and therefore predates the College.  The School is now the College's oldest building.  It was originally a private house, but has had many uses over time. The curious name has been applied to the building for at least four hundred years. During the sixteenth century, a small manor house was added to its west side, now used as study space for Fellows. The house is called Merton Hall, a nod to history in that until 1959 these buildings and the land on which they stand were part of the ancient estate of Merton College, Oxford.  In 2014 the School of Pythagoras will embark on a new career, housing the extensive and magnificent College Archives.