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Second Chance

Eleanor Young

Ruskin College, the institution that for over 100 years has given working men and woman the chance for an education later in life, has finally established a single base for itself on its site in Old Headington in Oxford.

Once a socialist hotbed, the Ruskin is now styled as a ‘second chance’ college for adult education. Its consolidated campus will allow it to house its students (many of whom come for intensive short courses), encourage group learning through new spaces, give access to 40,000 volumes in its new library and continue to develop its relations with the labour movement and unions by hosting their conferences.

Ruskin has managed to scrape its own second chance after more ambitious £38m plans were shelved after the Learning and Skills Council funding fiasco. The scaled back £17m Ruskin incarnation is a collaboration of Berman Guedes Stretton ‘s original masterplan, West Waddy’s planning advice, ADP’s refurbishment of accommodation and a lovely new library and learning building designed by Penoyre and Prasad.

The legacy of an aboretum on the site kept the site constrained so the library is in a four storey building which hides behind the grade 2 listed Rookery building at the front.  From the back a listed eighteenth century crinkle crankle wall disguises the scale of the building, also sheltering a kitchen garden now cultivated by the aptly named Crinkle Crankle Club.

Penoyre and Prasad has designed a slim atrium which drops light in between the refurbished Rookery and the library. It houses the main circulation giving the college a new teaching and learning heart. The white and grooved birch veneer of the interior makes for a light, elegant space with solidity and thermal mass from the concrete frame and exposed ribbed soffits. Little details like the seat height sills to windows create a generous sense of inhabitable space. Penoyre & Prasad's project leader Phyllida Mills described the process as ‘a rich and rewarding journey’.