Oxford has a wealth of architecture firms that can bring inspiration to many different design challenges, so there’s bound to be one to suit your project.
If you’re contemplating a development scheme and need an architect in Oxford, this article will help you find the right one to bring your vision to life.
Before engaging an architect, it’s important to speak to several firms with extensive experience in projects like yours. Check their reviews, look at examples of completed work and if possible, speak to former clients to get their opinions.
In this article, we look at the city’s history, architecture, and development plans and showcase the work of five great architects in Oxford.
Dive in to find out more!
Oxford’s history and architecture
Founded in the 9th century by Alfred the Great, Oxford boasts spectacular architecture ranging from Saxon, Gothic, and Neo-classical to Baroque and Postmodernism. It is home to the oldest university in the world and contains some of the best preserved medieval and later university buildings anywhere, along with fine examples of churches, houses, and civic buildings.
Notable landmarks include the 12th-century Christ Church Cathedral, the Sheldonian Theatre, Queen’s College, and the Radcliffe Camera.
Oxford, the county town of Oxfordshire, began to grow in the 19th century. It enjoyed a boom in the early 20th century when printing and car industries became prominent: Oxford became known for the manufacture of Morris cars and its prosperity grew. In the 1930s, Oxford expanded rapidly as more houses were built.
Today, the main industries are still car manufacturing – Minis are made by BMW in Cowley – and publishing, along with information technology and biotech. Oxford is now a centre for the arts, science, and technology. Alongside its academic and architectural history, the city contains parks and gardens, the Thames and Cherwell rivers run through it, and it’s surrounded by beautiful countryside. In 2020 the population was 154,000.
Development in Oxford
The success and attractiveness of Oxford have led to high house prices, which adds to the challenges for development in the city. While building more homes is a priority, the unique historic and natural environment must be protected to retain the area’s appeal.
There is a focus on intensifying development on previously developed sites, which is felt to be essential in such a constrained urban environment.
The Oxford Local Plan 2016-2036 contains policies designed to secure development that improves the area’s economic, social and environmental conditions. The city centre, district centres, and areas with transport links are designated as the most suitable areas for development in the Plan, which targets major housebuilding on the northeastern edge of Oxford, providing around 1,000 new homes, new transport links, community facilities, and services. A major employment-led site in north Oxford is also planned.
Priorities are affordable housing and good quality jobs, growth and development of district centres, not just the city centre, and making sure that facilities are close to residents’ homes. Increased provision for walking, cycling, and public transport aims to tackle pollution in the centre. There is also support for self-build housing, with self-build plots being made available on residential sites of 50 units or more.
New development in Oxford must be of high design quality to preserve its heritage while catering to modern needs. New builds affecting the historic skyline must be of exceptional design and not detrimental to the views of the city.
Why should you hire an Oxford architect?
While not every development scheme needs an architect, in many cases their professional skills can add value to a project. Their input may result in savings in areas such as space creation or choice of heating system. It’s also possible to hire an architect for just part of a project – for instance, they could create detail design drawings, or plans needed for the planning process.
Alternatively, a firm could provide full architectural services and take on total construction management duties, dealing with the entire scheme, from sketches through to engaging the building team and monitoring progress and costs.
It’s important that the architect you choose has experience with similar projects as they will know which planning applications are needed and suitable builders for the job. Your scheme may need an ecology survey or a bat survey, and an architect will be able to ensure it can deliver the right level of biodiversity net gain (BNG) if required by the local authority.
Architects are required to register with the Architects’ Registration Board, and most are members of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
Some amazing projects by architects in Oxford
To inspire you, we’ve selected five stunning schemes carried out by architects’ firms in Oxford. Hopefully, one is designing work that’s in line with your ideas.
Robin Swailes Design & Development
This firm designs and develops property to a high specification and has an in-house team of designers and architects working on residential projects, offices, and restaurants. This stunning Georgian-inspired house on Summerhill Road, Oxford is built over four floors including a basement and covers 4,500 square feet. It has five double bedrooms, a cinema room, a gymnasium, a landscaped garden, and off-street parking for two cars with a car-turning table.
This five-star rated firm aims to create buildings that are sustainable, practical, and beautiful. They are experts in Passivhaus design and sustainable building. Their work ranges from large renovations and house extensions to private residential projects and commercial work.
They have experience with listed properties and describe themselves as having `an enthusiasm for exploring surfaces, joints, textures, and light’. They provide architectural design and drawings, and their work includes eco homes, staircase design, and new home construction.
Established in 2019, NOTO focuses on creating contemporary and inspiring spaces. With expertise in construction and the planning industry, the company carries out a range of architectural services including architectural design, drawings, renovation work, loft conversion, house extensions, loft restoration, new home builds, project management, and sustainable design.
This five-star-rated firm is also experienced in Passivhaus property, sustainable construction, and building conservation.
The Raw House in Oxford involved renovating a Victorian end-of-terrace house with a focus on materials. The steel elements were left exposed and painted in rich tones to emphasise the structural changes to the property and make a clear delineation as to where old meets new.
Offering interior design and architecture services, MarbleAir takes projects from the initial idea to a feasibility study, detail design, and through the planning process. The highly rated team is experienced in architectural and structural engineering and dealing with historic buildings.
The brief at this house was to improve and extend living space on all floors in sympathy with the grade II listing. A new kitchen-dining annex was built, linking with the main house via a glass corridor. The existing kitchen was converted into a reception room, the original bathroom became guest accommodation, a new family bathroom was formed over a first-floor bedroom and a new bedroom was created in the loft.
Space Program architects
With an emphasis on creating inspiring and exciting homes, Space Programme works on designs for new builds, side returns, garage, and house extensions. This five-star rated company has extensive experience in working with listed buildings and conservation projects.
This modern extension to a family house in Oxford involved an open plan kitchen-diner, with adjoining living space leading to the outside area. A summer house in the garden provides a home office and storage.
Your next move
If you decide that your project would benefit from an architect’s input, rather than dealing with numerous consultants, our advice is to get in touch with three architects’ firms in Oxford. Set up a meeting and prepare some questions beforehand.
24housing’s article 10 things to ask your architect may help here. Usually, a practice will offer an initial free consultation, where you can meet the architects and explain your scheme fully. You can then compare the answers each one gives to your questions, putting you in the best position to decide which is the best architect for you after a careful financial discussion.