Beard Construction has carried out a stunning transformation of Rhodes House in Oxford, the home of world-renowned educational charity the Rhodes Trust.
The £26m construction project, designed by architectural firm Stanton Williams and started in November 2020, extended and restructured the basement of the Class A, Grade II*-listed building to create three new basements housing a 300-capacity, state-of-the-art conference centre, new guest bedrooms and new office spaces.
The project also saw the creation of a magnificent, 5m-high structural-glass pavilion, big enough to house 50 people. The pavilion’s green roof sits on a curved, structural timber lattice, which sits on all-glass walls with no steel supports. The pavilion is heated by a trench heater which skirts the base of the glass and the temperature is regulated by automatic solar shading blinds.
The building’s East Wing has been refurbished, returning it to its original residential use, providing 21 en-suite bedrooms. All-new commercial catering facilities were also installed in two new kitchens.
The work also included new wiring and heating for the entire building as well as the cleaning and repair of the original Blenheim-stone exterior.
The conference centre uses the latest in digital infrastructure and technology to allow audiences from around the world to participate and collaborate virtually. The high-spec, state-of-the-art audio visual facilities include a video wall made from eight 92-inch high-definition screens and joinery which conceals speakers and microphones – allowing seamless audience participation.
A new post-tension, solid stone spiral staircase has been installed inside an existing marble-clad rotunda, providing impressive access from the ground level to the foyer of the new conference centre. Held within the existing arches by a compression ring, the staircase is held together by three tensioned steel cables. The staircase connects to a new foyer with areas to display public art.
The new basement provides 16 new ensuite guest bedrooms in a sunken residential courtyard and open-plan office space for up to 70 staff, freeing up former office space in the existing building for scholars.
The building’s management system is regulated by an earth duct, a series of buried ventilation tubes which either warm or cool fresh outdoor air to keep the temperature of the building consistent.
The walls and floors of the new double-height basements were formed from reinforced in-situ concrete with a high proportion of cement replacement, much of which has been left visible and expressed. By utilising coffers, ribs and vaults, the amount of concrete used in the exposed slabs has also been greatly reduced by as much as 30%.
As part of the process, the existing building was underpinned using jet grouting, which uses high-velocity jets to cement and secure the soil. A movement tolerance of just 3mm was permitted for the existing building and any shifting was examined carefully during this process with movement monitors and tilt meters.
The interior of Rhodes House is influenced by the arts and crafts movement and much of the new carved stone and woodwork echoes its themes.
The work was carried out during the restrictions created by Covid lockdowns and while the trust’s operations continued as normal. This meant sequencing works, as well as providing water and drainage and temporary usable spaces.
The Rhodes Trust funds the internationally famous Rhodes Scholarships – alumni of which include former US president Bill Clinton and musician and actor Kris Kristofferson.
The £38m renovation of Rhodes House comes as the Trust launches a new campaign to fund the largest expansion of Scholarships in its history, with the goal of raising £200m to increase the number of worldwide Scholarships from 100 to 125 a year. Specifically, the Trust plans to create 32 new Scholarships per year for students from Africa by 2028 – a key part of the Trust’s commitment to widening its applicant pool and promoting greater equity in the distribution of its Scholarships across the globe.
Beard Oxford director Dean Averies said: “This was a once-in-a-lifetime project to transform a landmark building of international renown and our reputation for craftsmanship and expertise in working heritage buildings was crucial to the success of the scheme.
“We are extremely proud to have delivered on the Trust’s vision for a series of magnificent, inclusive and remarkable spaces.”
Beard has a longstanding association with the University of Oxford, completing projects at Pembroke College and Brasenose College. The company also has significant ongoing construction projects at the university including St John’s College and Exeter College.
Dr Elizabeth Kiss, Warden of Rhodes House and CEO of the Rhodes Trust, adds: “The transformed Rhodes House represents the Trust’s commitment to fostering a vibrant and diverse community of outstanding Scholars, based on inclusive excellence. This new world class building will be an ideal place for gathering, learning, collaborating and sharing, and will offer improved accessibility for all as we open our doors to new local and global audiences.”
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