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7th Feb 2018

A fitting approach to an iconic Oxford University institution.

The term “disabled ramps” in building conjures up images of plastic “hi-viz” monstrosities. When the building concerned is a stunning piece of Oxford University’s heritage one would imagine that the result could significantly detract from the architecture of the building. Not in the case of Rhodes House.

Rhodes House was built as a memorial to Cecil Rhodes and became the headquarters of the Rhodes Trust and a meeting venue for Rhodes Scholars. It was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, who had been Cecil Rhodes’s architect in South Africa and also collaborated on the design of New Delhi.

The site upon which Rhodes House is built was purchased in 1925 from Wadham College and was built between 1926 and 1928. Rhodes House itself reflects a number of influences: Cape Dutch farmhouse, English country mansion, and the arts and crafts movements of the 1900s. More information on the building and its fascinating history can be found at

As an institution used day-in day-out by scholars, staff and event delegates alike, the building needs to be accessible to all. The steps to the front and to the gardens behind meant that some visitors were unable to access the building. The ramps needed to be both functional and also to fit with the stunning stone façade of the college. 

David Pendery, of Pendery Architecture and Heritage, is an expert in just such commissions. When we called him recently to get his take on the project (just after the Rhodes House access project won the 2017 Oxford Preservation Trusts small renovations award) a muffled voice politely informed us “I am on a church roof, you might have to call me back later!” …and of course a cathedral roof is exactly where one would expect David to be!

Next phone call in our schedule was to Shaun Harris, from Harri-stone, the specialist contractors used to form and build the stone ramp. He was (surprise, surprise) also on top of a heritage building and midway through survey of 16 heritage chimney stacks!   

The sum product of these conversations was some fascinating insights into the design of the access. The gradual incline in the elongated ramps and was no accident. By ensuring the height increase was very gradual there was not requirement for safety railings; railings which would have detracted from the aesthetic of the building regardless of the material they were made from. By subtly bringing the bank up on either side of the ramps there was no ‘fall’ from the sides - thereby ensuring the safety of users without compromising on the elegance of the entrance. A similar design was implemented to the rear of the building.

StuartBarr CDR were delighted to have played a role in making Rhodes House more accessible for its ever-growing visitor base. The building is now available to hire for conferencing, private dining, events and weddings. It would be hard to find a more beautiful venue – and one with safer access.  

Oxford Presentation Trust (OPT) support Rhodes House and the many other Oxford institutions. OPT is a charity established with the objectives of guiding new building whist protecting the old and encouraging positive regeneration so that future generations can continue to enjoy this great city.

If you are passionate about Oxford and ensuring a positive future for this special city why not join them. StuartBarr CDR are proud to have become corporate members. Individual membership costs from £30 and includes a varied programme of annual activities including lectures, visits and walks in town and country as well as members only events, free year-round access to the Castle Mound and ‘Oxford Castle Unlocked’ as well as discounts and newsletters. Find out more at

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