The Florey Building, Oxford, UK

James Stirling
Date Built
St. Clement's Street

Visitors who have arrived in Oxford looking to see the "dreaming spires" are in for a shock if they into the St. Clement's Car Park to leave their car.  As they turn into the approach road they are confronted by what appears to be a very red, very large, alien space craft that has parked itself beside the River Cherwell.  This is, in fact, The Florey Building, a student residence for Queens College, Oxford, designed by James Stirling, after whom the Royal Institute of Architects named the famous Stirling Prize for Architecture.

Apparently the origin of the building was a wish by the then Provost of the college, Lord Florey, for, "... the best building by the best architect to attract the best students and also research funding"  In an article for BBC Oxford, Alan Berman says that Florey didn't want one that was, "... boxy and dull but admired by architects."  At this point in Stirling's career he wasn't seen as the celebrity architect that Florey was hoping for.  He had however completed two previous university commissions for the Engineering Department in Leicester and the History Faculty in Cambridge.  Both of these buildings had featured red tiles and with the Florey they became known as Stirling's "Red Trilogy".  Berman says of them that, "These three university buildings designed in the decade 1958-1968 all used the same traditional red industrial bricks and tiles and cheap factory glazing systems. With their sculptural and unusual forms they burst onto the 1950's building scene in which so much was minimal and banal as a result of post-war austerity. They were seen as exciting and dynamic and immediately hailed by the profession, and Stirling became a star among architects."

Florey championed Stirling's design but against a great deal of local opposition.  "Members of Queens' College generally considered the experience a disaster, compounded by their difficult relationship with the architect. Lord Florey was a moderniser from Australia who, minutes of meetings reveal, pushed the College to appoint an architect that others found arrogant and difficult to deal with. Florey supported Stirling and championed the design - but Florey died unexpectedly in 1968 just as building was getting under way, leaving Stirling's opponents to manage the project.  .... All of this produced a toxic mix - the unusual appearance, the poor technical performance and a dislike for the architect set people against the building and against Stirling to such an extent that senior academics in Oxford and Cambridge wrote to all their influential colleagues advising them not to engage Stirling as their architect. As a consequence Stirling built little in the UK for almost 18 years - yet he won commissions in Germany, became a professor of Architecture at Yale and won prizes in Japan

Whatever you may feel about the Florey it has to be noted that along with the other members of the Red Trilogy, it is now a listed building. acknowledging what Berman describes as, " ... their extraordinary forward looking forms and qualities and their experimental, ground breaking nature. They are visited by architects from all over the world."

Close Window