My favourite building: St Catherine's College

Why a building designed by a former tutor continues to inspire

ANALYSIS, Projects

Salim Hussein, head of design at Brewer Smith Brewer Gulf, says that his favourite building is an academic institution.

“It is by Stephen Hodder. While he is now President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, he was once a humble tutor at my architecture school.

“I still remember his beaming face when he announced to the class that he had won the prestigious project of extending Arne Jacobsen’s architectural masterpiece at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, UK.

“Hodder’s modest building has 54 study bedrooms along with ancillary accommodation.

“The base is aligned with the grid of the college, while the upper floors twist to face the river. This may sound complicated but it is, in fact, the opposite, and with this simple architectural manouvre, Hodder respects the existing buildings and acknowledges the new context of the river. This also gives unique facades on either side.

“One façade stands at three storeys, while the other cantilevers the upper floors to form a covered walkway, providing access into the blocks and also connecting into the glass pavilion stair cores.

“Hodder has now extended the original accommodation to form its own square but his first building is what really inspires me.

“It has the same heroic spirit of David standing next to Goliath – a small accommodation block built by a newcomer that is a contrast to the full suite of accommodation designed by Arne Jacobsen.

“It is small, but it is architecturally clear and beautifully crafted.

“There is a clarity and simplicity to the building only achievable through restraint, which must have been difficult for an architect who was only on his second building, but the age-old adage ‘less is more’ has proven right once again.”

Salim Hussain, Head of design, Brewer Smith Brewer Gulf

Salim Hussain is an architect whose focus is to design and build sustainable, high quality, relevant buildings, currently employed by Brewer Smith Brewer Gulf as head of design.

His buildings have won a number of awards and been publicised around the world.

As well as having worked across a range of sectors including residential, arts and offices, he has carried out education projects throughout his career.

These include new-build campus buildings for vocational colleges in Middlesbrough, Bristol and Birmingham in the UK and school projects in the UK, UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

He has also been an Undergraduate Unit Leader at Britain’s Nottingham University’s School of Architecture.

“Architecture has to fulfil basic functional requirements, but then transcend them to make something unique, something to inspire,” he said.

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