The Rhodes Trust, an educational charity which oversees the world-renowned Rhodes Scholarships at the University of Oxford and several other global fellowship programmes, has completed the renovation and redevelopment of Rhodes House, following a £38 million project.
The restoration of the historic Grade II* listed Rhodes House in central Oxford received planning consent in August 2020, and works started later that autumn. The redevelopment, which doubles the usable space in the House, is part of the Trust’s mission to ensure the building remains a central hub for Rhodes Scholars, members of the Trust’s partner programmes, and the wider Oxford community.
The completed renovation comes as the Trust launches a new £200 million campaign to fund the largest expansion of Rhodes Scholarships in its history. This includes the goal of raising £140 million to grow the number of Scholarships worldwide from 100 to 125 a year, and it features plans to increase the number of Scholarships per year for students from the African continent to 32 by 2028 – a key part of the Trust’s commitment to widening its applicant pool and promoting greater equity in the distribution of its Scholarships across the globe.
Dr Elizabeth Kiss, Warden of Rhodes House and CEO of the Rhodes Trust, said: “The transformed Rhodes House accelerates the Trust’s ability to foster a vibrant and diverse community of outstanding Scholars and Fellows who are committed to building a better world. Its world class facilities provide an ideal place for gathering, learning, collaborating, and sharing, and will offer improved accessibility for all as we open our doors to new local and global audiences. We are very grateful to Charles Feeney and the Atlantic Philanthropies for the 2016 landmark gift that acted as the catalyst for the entire project.”
Rhodes House now includes a new 300-capacity, state-of-the-art conference centre to host events for Scholars and wider audiences involving world leaders and distinguished speakers. The space can be separated into three smaller conference areas, and uses the latest in digital infrastructure and technology to allow audiences from around the world to participate and collaborate virtually. The gardens have also been completely redesigned by Christopher Bradley-Hole, one of the world’s most influential landscape designers.
Paul Williams OBE, Principal Director at Stanton Williams, the lead design architects on the project, said: “We are delighted to see the vision we developed with the Trust come to fruition. A newly choreographed sequence of spaces now unfolds seamlessly within the building, enhancing its historic features, connecting new and existing facilities and opening enticing views and routes into the magnificent surrounding gardens. This project has been about acknowledging and transcending history to unlock the potential of the building to provide an environment that can fully support the Trust’s strategic vision for the future whilst preserving their historic premises in the centre of Oxford.”
To mark the Trust’s 120th anniversary, this summer, Rhodes House is hosting its inaugural art exhibitions:
Floating Garden by Valéria Nascimento is a permanent installation in the main hall, featuring thousands of pieces of suspended porcelain representing botanical elements from the Rhodes Scholarship constituencies around the world.
I Am Because We Are by British contemporary artist Nicola Green: Green will showcase an immersive exhibition that celebrates the life, identity, heritage, and outstanding achievements of ten Scholars and Fellows from the Rhodes Trust community. The exhibition is designed to face the history of the Rhodes Trust through their lived experiences and consider the themes of colonialism, diasporic identity and justice. These stories have been woven into two bodies of work: a series of fabric artworks ‘Entangled Threads’ and bespoke patterned vinyls, which together form the ‘Rhodes Tapestry’. Green chose to use these mediums because textiles and patterns are fundamental to our collective consciousness, common humanity and shared visual language.
The World Reimagined: presenting a ‘Journey of Discovery’ by multiple artists, including Zita Holbourne, Parys Gardener, and Richard Rawlins: The exhibition displays unique globes to explore the history, legacy, and future of the Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans through the work of a range of artists. World Reimagined is presenting journeys of discovery in the gardens of Rhodes House.
Living with the Legacy of Cecil John Rhodes by Professor Shadreck Chirikure: Rhodes House will also host a photographic exhibition on Cecil Rhodes, the Trust’s Founder, entitled ‘Cecil John Rhodes: Hero, Villain, Ruthless Exploiter or Unjustly Accused?’. Professor Chirikure uses photography to reflect on some of his conversations with the Rhodes Trust’s Legacy, Equity and Inclusion advisory groups and how we think about the legacy of Mr Rhodes.
Speaking on the art exhibitions, Dr Kiss added, “The Rhodes Trust’s 120th anniversary presents an important opportunity to reflect on the organisation’s past and consolidate our vision for the future. To mark this anniversary and the opening of the new Rhodes House, we have commissioned several art exhibitions to help us – and the wider community – reflect upon, and grapple with, the Trust’s legacy. We believe that we can only make real progress as an organisation by engaging fully, critically, and honestly with our history.”
The exhibitions will open to the public from Saturday, 22 July, with multiple open days planned during the summer. The exhibitions and wider building and gardens will also be open for Oxford Open Doors on 09 September – an annual weekend where places that are not usually open to the public are open free to celebrate heritage and culture across all walks of the city’s life.
Features of the new Rhodes House include:
A new 300-capacity, state-of-the-art conference centre to host events for Scholars and wider audiences involving world leaders and distinguished speakers. Created by reconfiguring existing ancillary spaces on the lower floors, the conference centre features a new double-height vaulted roof that provides generous scale and flexibility for a variety of meetings, all with natural daylight and views of the magnificent gardens beyond. The space can be separated into three smaller conference areas.
A focus on sustainability has seen the existing building services replaced with high-performance modern equivalents, significantly reducing the building’s carbon footprint. These technologies include combined heat and power systems, LED lighting throughout, and an air-source geothermal system that maintains thermal comfort and reduces reliance on gas and electricity sources.
A new sculptural spiral staircase, placed in the centre of the historic Rotunda – the main entrance to Rhodes House – provides a new direct route down to the new foyer and convening centre while offering new ways to appreciate the striking architecture of the dome above. Held by a compression ring, the new stone staircase is supported by three tensioned steel ropes. The balustrade is carved from Moleanos stone, a natural limestone from Portugal, matching the stone used in Herbert Baker’s original design.
New glazed lightwells bring daylight and natural ventilation to the reconfigured lower floors. They are used as breakout spaces adjacent to the foyer and as exhibition areas for the display of public art.
A new 50-seat glazed pavilion in the West Garden provides a tranquil place for Scholars and the public to meet and exchange ideas, immersed in a magnificent landscape setting. The pavilion’s green roof sits on a curved, structural timber frame, which sits on all-glass walls with no perimeter columns – except for the two portals for the sliding openings. The temperature is regulated by automatic solar shading blinds.
A new lower ground courtyard, carefully and discreetly set within the East Garden, provides 16 ensuite guest bedrooms, all opening onto a leafy communal patio echoing the materiality of Rhodes House’s East façade above. The rooms have glazed front openings to maximise natural light and are earth-sheltered, with the gardens reinstated above.
Restoration of the existing heritage building of Rhodes House, with the East wing being converted to provide 21 ensuite bedrooms. New lifts ensure that most rooms have flat and level access. All services throughout the building have been replaced, and the historic finishes gently restored. Rhodes House was originally completed in 1928.
The Rhodes House gardens have been completely redesigned by Christopher Bradley-Hole, one of the world’s most influential landscape designers, working closely with the organisation’s Head Gardener, Neil Wigfield. Sustainability has been factored into the design, with the construction of a new drought-tolerant gravel garden, the installation of sedum roofs and wildflower meadows to attract pollinators and provide diverse wildlife habitats.