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Redefining Oxford's rural-urban fringe through visionary architectural design

Bethany Kippin, winner of the 2023 Chancellor's Prize, unveils an innovative design for Oxford that emphasises adaptive reuse and community collaboration.

Oxford's overlooked gem: the rural-urban fringe

In the heart of Oxford lies a challenge that Bethany took head-on: the rural-urban fringe. Often overlooked and underappreciated, this peripheral environment became the focal point of Bethany's BSc Architecture final-year project. Through her deep exploration, Beth sought to transform this space into something productive, human-centric, and networked.

From city canvas to connected community

Drawings of Bethany Kippin's final-year project
In this project, Bethany is creating a ecological forum through adaptive reuse of the 900-year-old priory building

This project was not just about redefining a space but about reimagining its purpose and connection to the community. Starting with the city of Oxford as her canvas, Bethany delved into the intricacies of the rural-urban fringe, aiming to develop it into a space that resonates with people and fosters connectivity.

Social enterprise: the heartbeat of the project

The driving force behind the project was the idea of social enterprise. Challenging the traditional capitalist mindset, Bethany envisioned a space where collaboration and community involvement took centre stage. By bridging the gap between people and their environment, she aimed to foster innovation and reduce societal inequities.

"My project is also about bringing people and the wider environment together in a way which can mutually benefit everyone, thinking about providing spaces for making, and how that can facilitate greater innovation."

Challenges met with innovation

Bethany Kippin presenting her final-year project design model
Bethany was looking at creating a space that is mutually beneficial for both the community and the wider environment through her project

Every ambitious project comes with its set of challenges, and this one was no exception. One of the primary challenges Bethany faced was the old priory building on her chosen site, dating back to the 1100s. With recent developments leaving this historical gem in a state of neglect, Bethany saw an opportunity. She emphasises the importance of 'adaptive reuse' in architecture, a concept that focuses on repurposing existing structures rather than building new ones. By integrating the priory into her project, she not only preserves a piece of history but also showcases how heritage can coexist with modernity. Balancing the social aspect with the architectural context was also pivotal. The project wasn't just about creating a space but ensuring it resonated with the community.

"It seems such a shame to leave such a long-lasting building to go into ruin after it’s been there for so long. So, the other aspect of my project is thinking about how the reinstatement, (what I call an ecological forum), can bring in the aspects of the priory and really makes it the centre point of the new development."

"The reason why I was so invested in the reinstatement of the priory building was because a current big idea in the architectural world is thinking about the reuse of buildings. With the construction industry being such a massive part of the climate emergency, the most responsible reaction to this is to actually think, how can we stop building things?"

From review to revelation

After 13 weeks of hard work, Beth's project underwent a rigorous review process, where she presented her design to both an internal tutor and an external critic. This not only provided her with invaluable feedback but also allowed her to reflect on her journey and the project's impact.

A blueprint for tomorrow

Bethany Kippin presenting her final-year project drawings
Bethany wanted to help people rethink how we treat heritage architecture through her design

Bethany’s project is more than just an architectural endeavour: it's a vision for the future. A future where communities are more connected, where old structures are given new life, and where the environment is a key stakeholder in every decision. It not only challenges conventional norms but also offers a fresh perspective on how we view our surroundings.

"I wanted my project to be almost an exposition of how we should be treating heritage architecture and parts of our built environment that exist, and how we need to be sensitive to that context, but at the same time forward-thinking and not shying away from shifting things around and making them more relevant to today's society."

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