Client: The Blavatnik School of Government
Architect: Herzog & de Meuron
Contractor: Vetter UK Ltd

Since its official opening back in May 2016, the Blavatnik School of Government building has become one of the most vibrant departments of the University of Oxford. HRH The Duke of Cambridge himself attended the official opening, marking the significance of this new and innovative structure. Designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron, who also worked on the extension at Tate Modern art gallery in London, the award-winning building is beautifully landscaped with Hardscape’s Royal Coffee granite paving – a fitting tribute to a future King! 

Award-winning design to inspire change

Designed to support the School’s mission of inspiring and promoting better government around the world, the BSG building provides a purpose-built home for a vibrant academic community. In 2016 it received further regal affirmations with a raft of awards for ‘architectural excellence’ from the Royal Institute of British Architects and is now one of the most vibrant departments of the University of Oxford. 

It was founded in 2010, thanks to a £75million donation by American philanthropist Leonard Blavatnik, who, in June 2017, was awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. For over a decade Len Blavatnik had built a record of outstanding personal philanthropy in the UK to education, cultural and charitable causes including a commitment in 2010 of £75million to Oxford University to establish the Blavatnik School of Government. 

Balanced collaboration of material choice

From the outside, the whole building is a statement piece. It is radically different from the context of its traditionally historical Oxford setting, but with subtle references that anchor it. The more you stand and stare, the more you can see what elevates this building beyond a bold iconic statement. As RIBA describes it: “The project plays on the idea of the picture frame; the window on the world; the players within and the world outside. This is both intriguing and theatrical: the stage is set for an interesting collaboration or confrontation. On display, ready to interact – anything is possible.” Beautifully balanced cantilevered, glass façade sections that seem to contradict a mathematical and physics understanding of modern-build techniques. 

Townshend Landscape Architects in collaboration with Herzog & de Meuron presented Hardscape with images of the kind of materials they felt would be suitable, both for colour and durability. Hardscape were able to supply a perfect match with 1800m2 of brown (Royal Coffee) granite paving which complemented the tone and colour of the building. This was implemented by trusted stone contractors Vetter UK Ltd, who had worked with Hardscape before on other similar projects. 

Riven stone paving was intelligently used to provide tactile delineation, serving as a deterrent to stop people walking by the glass façade doors or standing in front of the windows. This helped to define the space even further. 

The brief encountered excellence

The client’s brief was to ensure that students engaged with the surroundings.  The traditional Oxford quad was reinterpreted, and the rule book thrown away, resulting in a space where people naturally come together and engage both physically and emotionally. The result was a relaxed and uplifting experience. This was a complex building in its geometry with stacked orthogonal and rectilinear forms working brilliantly against all the odds – a truly inspirational piece of design and one so fitting for its purpose. 

A plethora of plaudits

The building has since been hailed as a stunning new addition to Oxford’s historic skyline and, through its design, represents the values of openness, collaboration and transparency that are key to the School’s overall mission of improving public policy. 

Ultimately, The Blavatnik School of Government is a global school pursuing a vision of a world better led, a world better served and a world better governed. Hardscape was proud to be associated with the finished project and to share in the vision designed to uphold these values. 

The official opening of the School marks a special milestone for us. The presence of the Duke of Cambridge was a privilege. It has all been made possible by the generosity of Leonard Blavatnik, donors to University College, and the University of Oxford.

Professor Ngaire Woods, Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government

Materials used