Bonn Square Oxford – Graeme Massie Architects

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Bonn Square : Oxford Landscape Architecture

English Public Realm Development – design by Graeme Massie Architects, UK

16 Nov 2009

Graeme Massie Architects unveil redevelopment of Bonn Square in Oxford

Oxford is a unique place, with a strong identity based principally on its historic university colleges. With the quadrangles of these colleges providing open space for the students and staff, the city centre has developed in a manner such that public space is minimal. Although formed in piecemeal fashion, Bonn Square, therefore, is an anomaly. Formerly composed of a number of autonomous land parcels, held under separate ownership, Bonn Square had neither a distinctive character nor a clear civic role and consequently gained a reputation for neglect and petty crime.

Bonn Square Bonn Square design Bonn Square Oxford
photos : David Stewart

Our project, the winning proposal in a RIBA open international design competition held in 2005, has radically altered the character of Bonn Square. It is now a flexible, events space which provides a venue for both formal and informal civic events, as well being a safe and accessible backdrop to the life of the city. As the flagship project in the redevelopment of the Oxford’s west end, the city’s principal commercial district, and a keystone in the City Council’s Area Action Plan, Bonn Square will act as a catalyst for further local regeneration and a wider programme of public realm initiatives throughout the city.

The scheme is defined by four key components: a variegated sandstone surface unifies the square’s former component parcels and establishes a relationship with the material fabric of Oxford; a central ramped area accommodates the extant archaeological remains of the St Peter-le-Bailey church, and its deconsecrated burial ground, whilst providing full access to all users; a grove of Robinia Pseudoacacia trees – commonly found in the university college gardens – shades a ‘scattered’ collection of bespoke bronze street furniture; four 15 metre high bronze lighting columns act as a landmark within the cityscape and facilitate the modification of the square’s character through light level and colour.

Bonn Square Oxford Bonn Square Oxford Bonn Square Oxford
photographs : Graeme Massie Architects

The combination of sawn and split-faced setts in different configurations creates multiple surface patterns that articulate both anticipated usage and historic land ownership boundaries. The use of tone, modulation and varying textures have led to an expressive surface, which over time will wear, providing a trace of peoples movements through the square. Similarly utilising time as an element of design, the bronze furniture and fittings will patinate and stain the sandstone surface while tree species have been selected for their seasonal variation.

RIBA Bonn Square International Design Competition, 1st Prize

Graeme Massie Architects – Bonn Square Oxford PR 18 Jun 2006

Subject : Planning Permission Granted for Bonn Square, Oxford

The redevelopment of Bonn Square, Oxford, designed by Graeme Massie Architects has received planning permission from Oxford City Council on the 13th of June 2006. The project won the RIBA International Design Competition for the redevelopment of the square in May 2005; it is scheduled to start on site in 2008.

Bonn Square is one of the few public spaces in the centre of Oxford, and is located within the historic core of Oxford, not far from the Castle and within the line of the medieval city walls. It also falls within the boundary of the Oxford Central (City and University) Conservation Area, and has listed structures within and around it. Its location at the intersection of four major routes, and adjacency to the Westgate Shopping Centre ensures that it is a hub for heavy pedestrian fl ows during the day and in the evening. However, its presently fragmented layout, lack of natural surveillance and neglected appearance make it a focus for criminal and anti-social behaviour in the city centre.

As part of the ongoing regeneration of the west end of the historic city, the transformation of Bonn Square into a dynamic public space, which also respects and enhances the history of the square and its historic setting, is one of the most important tasks facing Oxford City Council.

Oxford Square Bonn Square Oxford
Bonn Square Oxford images from Graeme Massie Architects 161007

The project demonstrates a fusion of current public space standards with the requirements of conservation legislation, responding to that which is essential and of historic value and augmenting it with a series of discrete interventions to create a sympathetic, yet radical, reinterpretation of the square.

To achieve spatial clarity and improve permeability, a continuous, taut sandstone surface is folded over the extent of the square, encompassing, and retaining in-situ, the archaeological remains of a Georgian church and its cemetery (and possibly the remains of the earlier medieval church). The sandstone surface forms a material dialogue with the fabric of Oxford, and by arranging sawn and split faces in different confi gurations subtly articulates different conditions whilst retaining a unifi ed appearance. Beneath a grove of trees the surface is further elaborated with black Caithness fl agstone setts arranged in a random confi guration giving the impression of dappled shadows. The use of tone, modulation and varying textures will lead to an
expressive surface, which over time will wear, providing a trace of people’s movements through the square, in a similar manner to that encountered in the old stone stairs of the university colleges.

Oxford is a unique place, with a strong identity based principally on its historic university colleges. With the quadrangles of these colleges providing open space for the students and staff, the city centre has developed in a manner such that public space is minimal. Although formed in piecemeal fashion, Bonn Square, therefore, is an anomaly.

In retaining that which is essential and of historic value, and folding a taut limestone surface over its currently fragmented extent, we seek spatial clarity and a dialogue with the material fabric of Oxford. The use of tone, modulation and varying textures will lead to an expressive surface, which over time will wear, providing a trace of peoples movements through the square. Similarly utilising time as an element of design, bronze furniture and fittings will patinate and stain the limestone surface while tree species are selected for their seasonal variation.

Submission date: apr 2005
No. of entries: 93

Bonn Square Oxford images / information from Graeme Massie Architects

Bonn Square Oxford architects – Graeme Massie – based in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK


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