Catherine Hughes Building Somerville College Oxford, England Architecture, Halls of Residence Design Photos

Catherine Hughes Building Somerville College, Oxford

25 May 2022

Catherine Hughes Building – 2022 RIBA South Award Shortlisted

The Catherine Hughes Building at Somerville College Oxford is one of 13 projects which received a 2022 RIBA South Award.

The 2022 RIBA South Award winners were:

2022 RIBA South Award Winners

24 November 2021

Design: Niall McLaughlin Architects

Location: Woodstock Rd, Oxford, England, UK

Catherine Hughes Building Somerville College Oxford

Catherine Hughes Building England UK
photos courtesy of Brick Awards

Catherine Hughes Building at Somerville College Oxford

Named after the late former Principal of Somerville College, the Catherine Hughes building provides 68 study bedrooms for undergraduates, plus a new graduate reading room on the ground floor. It is a multi-storey structure constructed in the college’s old service yard between the Penrose building and the single-storey old school house.

Designed by Niall McLaughlin Architects, this high-quality accommodation is positioned at the fulcrum of the curve on Walton Street. It has therefore become an integral part of the street scene that complements nearby buildings, which includes the recently refurbished Grade II listed Wolfson building and the large-scale Radcliffe Observatory Quarter development. The design recognises the changing nature of Walton street by addressing both the sensitive character of the Jericho Conversation Area in which the college sits and the institutional feel of other neighbouring structures.

Catherine Hughes Building England UK

The scheme reacts to these contrasting scales with the larger 5 storey volume set towards the centre of the site and the smaller 4 storey blocks addressing Walton Street and the College Quad. However, it simultaneously possesses a character of its own as an ambitious and modern building with enjoyable internal spaces and a communal feel. The result is a valuable addition to the college and also a welcome addition to the existing urban grain. Meanwhile, the picture windows in the graduate reading room respond positively to Walton Street and offer passing members of the public a window into college life.

A cross-laminated timber frame was ultimately used to form the structure of the building. This offered a low-carbon alternative to concrete as well as providing significant cost and programme savings. The external walls were constructed using traditional hand-laid brickwork. The selection of Reigate Purple bricks was carefully considered. Its red tones reflect the neighbouring buildings, with the articulated brickwork elements around generous windows providing a rhythm to the façade. Framed setbacks at third floor level also provide variety to the roof line whilst emphasising the building’s alignment with key levels on the adjacent Penrose Building.

Internally, the study bedrooms are arranged into clusters with kitchens and circulation spaces creating focal points for socialising. The rooms themselves have an open layout and generous windows that allow abundant natural light to flood in. Students were impressed by the modern facilities and airy and comfortable ambiance, which provides an ideal environment for both study and rest.

The Catherine Hughes Building was a substantial investment for Somerville College. However, it enabled the college to fulfil its promise to offer every undergraduate a room on its central site for the duration of their studies. This not only brought the community closer together; it also gave Somerville an advantage over other colleges that use satellite sites to house their students.

The project was delivered on time and on budget by Oxford-based construction firm Beard.

Catherine Hughes Building England UK Catherine Hughes Building England UK

Judges’ Comments – Ian Wilson

A joy to behold, stands in a varied street scape proudly designed and built to make it feature well on its own merits.


The structure succeeds in delivering everything that it sought to do from the outset, well thought student accommodation.
The site was difficult at it is a compact area that is bordered by a variety of differing methods of construction from concrete Arup buildings to the Penrose building and a single storey school as it’s near neighbour. The Catherine Hughes Building is original and honest to itself.


A very creative design, care taken to acknowledge rooms north facing by the introduction of more windows to these areas.

The full potential of the site has been exploited without overbearing upon other adjacent structures. The design allows the street elevation to be opened to passers by, a very novel feature as opposed to the traditional quads that minimise outside windows.
The brick is a fine choice of Ibstock Reigate Purple and NHL mortar extremely well laid.


The quality of the brickwork was a very pleasant surprise, the entry images do the building no justice whatsoever. One must assume that the photographs were taken prior to completion and do not reflect the presented item. The pointing detail is exquisite and displays a high level of pride.

Overall this is an extremely well constructed structure, it is one that all involved must be proud. The use of a CLT (cross laminated timber frame) is rather unusual but it allowed internal finishes to progress unaffected by the elements thus allowing the masonry envelope to come off the critical path programme. Net result a well performed brick structure.

Catherine Hughes Building England UK


A good British brick, Natural Hydraulic Lime mortar coupled with a good design and excellent craftsmen . They all go to produce a lovely building of which everyone involved must be justifiably proud.

This beautifully crafted block of student accommodation for Somerville College stands close to a bend on the east side of Walton Street in Jericho. Unlike the older college buildings to the north, which are hidden to passing pedestrians behind high stone walls, the Catherine Hughes Building sits confidently on the rear edge of the pavement, inviting close inspection of the building itself and the possibility of a glimpse into the world of academia.

The west elevation sets the style for the whole building with the side elevations, facing north and south, continuing the theme. Stepped reveals frame the recessed full height fenestration, their lightness and articulation contrasting with the solidity of the flanking monolithic brick towers.

The building is undoubtedly a positive contribution to the street scene. Its use of traditional brickwork, in a setting with a mixture of stone, concrete and glass facades nearby, also respects its immediate and much older brick-built neighbour on the Somerville site.

Catherine Hughes Building Somerville College Oxford images / information from the Brick Awards

Previously on e-architect:

Somerville College Student Accommodation
Somerville College Student Accommodation Oxford

Somerville College Dining Hall Architecture Competition
Somerville College Dining Hall Competition by RIBA

Phone: +44 1865 270600

Address: Woodstock Rd, Oxford, OX2 6HD, United Kingdom

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Comments / photos for the Catherine Hughes Building Somerville College Oxford design by Niall McLaughlin Architects page welcome