The intersections between science-based and knowledge-economy activities, academic research and places to live, socialise and interact are key catalysts for innovation in the digital age. These places, often known as innovation districts, are global phenomena attracting world class and mobile talent seeking to cluster in proximity to centres of research excellence. We are designing such a district for Thomas White Oxford to help the city compete and the UK economy thrive.
The site – approximately 30 hectares – sits at the northern edge of Oxford and has been in the ownership of St John’s College for more than 400 years. This longevity, and the sense of custodianship for future generations, underpins the proposals. New types of research and laboratory buildings for more than 6500 people will sit alongside new homes and amenities, and are placed within a verdant landscape that provides connections to the surrounding areas, linking the site together and creating a series of parks, gardens, lawns and ecological features. While the landscape approach provides continuity, the strategy for the built form recognises and responds to the certainty of change, creating a series of adaptable buildings that can link, fuse or subdivide to support growing and changing organisational and social needs at an accelerating pace.
The site is currently defined by hostile highways. Transforming perceptions, so that roads are reconceived as urban streets with names, frontages and activities, is a key tactic that reconciles infrastructure improvements with Fletcher Priest’s ambitions for urban placemaking. This builds on experience in Oxford with St Anne’s College, in Cambridge at Waterbeach, and in a series of projects where we are working with clients and communities at the forefront of thinking about urban change.