Celebrating St.Catherine's College

Arne Jacobsen 1902-1971 architect of St. Catherine's College Oxford 1959-1964 Saturday 5th of May 2012

Skandium, Fritz Hansen, Spacecraft, Living Etc. celebrated together with 200 guests St Catherine’s first half century as a college.

The day started at the Skandium – Fritz Hansen store in Fitzrovia with a breakfast. Four busses took the crowd to St. Catherines in Oxford, where we where treated to an inspiring presentation on St. Catherines and Arne Jacobsen's finest building project. Specialist Michael Sheridan, flown in from the US for this event, is an expert on Arne Jacobsen and author of amongst other 'Room 606'.

St. Catherine's is proud of its achievements of the past five decades, and looking forward to a future that sees Oxford’s youngest, and largest, undergraduate and graduate college continue to be recognised as an outstanding institution for learning, education and research in the arts and sciences. The fiftieth anniversary of the College’s foundation will also afford us with an opportunity to acknowledge the fact that the roots of the present-day College extend back into the nineteenth century: St Catherine’s College rests firmly upon foundations built by the students and academics who were members of the Delegacy or, later, St Catherine’s Society.

The origin of today’s College was a ‘Delegacy’ (a non-collegiate organisation under the control of the University) founded in 1868 in order to provide access to an Oxford education for those who could not afford the costs of college membership. That mission is once again particularly relevant as it approaches the 150th anniversary.

Alan Bullock and the Creation of the College In 1952, the year in which his book Hitler: A Study in Tyranny was published, Alan Bullock was appointed Censor (Head) of St Catherine's Society. The permanent academic staff comprised Alan himself, and four Tutors, including Wilfrid Knapp and John Simopoulos. Alan could see that if it was to continue to develop and expand, the Society would have to change. In 1956 the Delegates took the momentous decision to transform the Society into a college. The University was persuaded to give its consent, and Alan Bullock began to look for a site and funding.

The modern Development of St Catherine’s and its Buildings When the College opened to its first students in October 1962, only a few buildings were ready for occupation and none of them were complete. The band of pioneers who endured the privations of that first term quickly became known as the 'Dirty Thirty'. However, by the end of the academic year 150 undergraduates had taken up residence. The College grew steadily. In 1974 it became one of the first five colleges in Oxford to become mixed and by 1978 was the largest college within the University.

Why St Catherine? The club that became St Catherine's Society took its name from its original meeting place, St Catharine's Hall, a house in Broad Street now forming part of Hertford College. However the connection with the saint is is appropriate for a college founded on an ethos of high academic standards combined with a doggedly independent streak.

The Architect chosen for the new college had to be modern, innovative and highly humane in his design approach. After visiting a number of buildings by Arne Jacobsen in his native Denmark, it was decided, this was the man, able to represent the values one was looking for, and so to build the new college. The building is largely set up in tune with traditional college buildings in Oxford. One difference to traditional layout is, the communal buildings where placed in the centre of the grounds. Here traditionally a large extended courtyard was kept free. The communal buildings where placed centre stage by Jacobsen as he wanted these meeting places to be at the heart of the educational body. The materials used where brick fired to a specific size with a number of copper clad walls gracing the main buildings and lots of glass to reflect the sky, giving it a light touch. The building process had to struggle with severe financial shortcomings why a number of budget cuts had to be made and so dramatically influenced certain results of the project.

Our eminent group had the pleasure to have an excellent lunch, served in the dining hall and thereafter visit a number of facilities showcasing Jacobsen's furniture. All facilities from corridors to meeting rooms, library, students- and deans dining room, all are graced with Jacobsen's wonderful furniture, here sitting perfectly in scale. The architect used his entire design portfolio for the college from door handles over furniture to cutlery. All colour schemes from wall to floors where likewise chosen by the master and are still as relevant as they where day one.

We ended our day back at the Skandium – Fritz Hansen store where a draw revealed a winner for a 3107 chair and for the runner up the book 'Room 606' by Michael Sheridan. The Prosecco was flowing and so our longing dreams to all one day own as many pieces by this remarkable master as we possibly are able to house in our own homes…..

Arne, you are the greatest!