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Cafe boss’ distaste at ‘vast Blavatnik thing’
CONSERVATIONISTS warned of dire consequences for the city’s world famous skyline when Oxford University announced plans to build a giant glass school of government.
But for David Freud the threat is altogether closer to home.
An Oxford University graduate with a passion for architecture, Mr Freud is far from happy about the way the Blavatnik Building on Walton Street is going to impact on his cafe bar. Freuds began 25 years ago in the former Oxford Church of St Paul’s next door.
Built in the 1830s, the Greek revival building, with its imposing Ionic columns is grade II listed and has ended up outlasting the Radcliffe Infirmary.
But in Mr Freud’s view, the old building is about to be completely overwhelmed by the proposed new circular building, which will tower over it. Not only that, light into the former church – with its famous stained glass windows – would be severely reduced if the application for the building – now with Oxford City Council – is approved.
Mr Freud, said: “Our building looks quite grand in its setting. At the moment there is a scale and proportion to the area. “It will go from being one of the great monuments in Walton Street to being completely overwhelmed by this vast thing, which will be twice as high.”
This “vast thing” will be designed by the celebrated Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. Helen Bunting, spokesman for the Blavatnik School of Government, said: “The design offers a new and exciting vision, drawing on the best tradition of Oxford’s most iconic architecture. “We believe everyone will benefit from this striking building replacing a closed-off brown-field site on Walton Street.”
Mr Freud, whose wife Naomi is a Fellow of St Catherine’s College, said his real hope was that it would effectively be incorporated into the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter scheme. He said: “I wanted to have a dialogue with the university but this has not happened. We have permission to operate as an arts centre and theatre. If the new university quarter is meant to function as a social space, we could add to the liveliness of the area.”
Mr Freud is now concerned that the university will be seeking to lower the ground next door, leaving the old church high above Walton Street in an isolated position.
Such a plan would bring additional complications for the university. The creation of the basement would require the remains of hundreds being exhumed from the grounds of a former fever hospital.