Purcell advises Christ Church on planning application for visitor centre

On behalf of Christ Church, Oxford, Purcell has submitted plans to transform a redundant thatched barn in the grounds of Christ Church, into a new visitor centre including an interpretation area, a shop and a café. The creative refurbishment and extension of the barn will enable the restoration of Christ Church’s Chapter House, which will be used for lectures, seminars and concerts.

An early 19th century thatched barn which has been unused for many years, will be converted into a new visitor centre. The building is located in a 46 acre Meadow that lies to the south of the college and is bordered by the Thames and the Cherwell rivers. Christ Church is Oxford’s most visited paid-for attraction, receiving around 440,000 visitors a year. Around one million people visit the Meadow every year and the new centre will significantly improve the visitor experience.
New facilities will comprise a ticketing area, a shop re-located from the Chapter House, a café and a range of new facilities for the buildings’ and gardens’ maintenance team. One of the highlights of the transformation will be the ability to provide interpretation facilities to inform visitors about the history of the Meadow and the college.

The historic setting of the barn has been taken into account during each stage of the design process and has informed the material choice for the new works. The use of traditional building forms and materials will ensure that the additions look integrated with the surrounding setting and that the thatched barn, now an isolated building, will maintain its importance thanks to the subservient nature of the new development. The approaches from the urban environment to the rural setting have been carefully assessed to help frame the views of the Meadow through the location and orientation of the new additions. This approach has been recognised as a defining principle for the shop/ticketing area in particular.

By gaining a comprehensive understanding of the site through historic research and analysis of its current state, the design team have put together an impressive planning application and all involved eagerly await the outcome.

Alain Torri, Project Architect from Purcell:

“This is one of the most challenging developments we have ever worked on due to the sensitivity of the site and other constraints. In turn this has created the opportunity to produce a highly contextual design which we are very excited to execute and see in the flesh. It will be a great facility that everyone coming into the Meadow will be able to enjoy.”

The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, said:

“The proposed visitor centre will significantly improve the overall experience of visitors to the Meadow and Christ Church. It has been sensitively designed to harmonise with its rural setting and will provide facilities, which will be welcomed and enjoyed by residents of Oxford as well as people from further afield. I particularly rejoice in the liberation of our magnificent Chapter House, which will now become available for concerts, meetings and other events”.

The planning application was submitted in March 2015, and the outcome is expected before the end of May 2015.