Paul Webley Wing

School of Oriental and African Studies

The Paul Webley Wing project for the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), refurbishes and extends Charles Holden’s Grade II* listed Senate House North Block to provide a new student and academic social hub, a dynamic space that reflects the culture of the SOAS community.

The scheme involves several design interventions that allow various facilities to be combined into a single location. A key part of this was a new light-filled atrium in the centre of the listed building, created by excavating the courtyard to basement level and inserting a feature double-curved glass roof at first floor level. This new space brings students and academics together and supports the University’s ambitions for modern, flexible spaces uncompromised by the existing building but whilst respecting its heritage.

Working closely with Historic England, the roof adopts the highest quality detailing to deliver a ‘light touch’ intervention that maximises the visual connection to the surrounding listed building. This is achieved by detailing the primary support beams to follow the curvature of the glazing, utilising structural glass secondary beams and siting columns away from the façade to define a respectful relationship between new and old.

In addition to the new central space, the project delivers over 6,500sqm of refurbished accommodation including academic offices and student services. The works to the existing areas also involved raising the level of the ground floor in the North and South wings to allow disabled access throughout, an additional lift core, replacement of existing services that were beyond their usable life, refurbishment of toilet suites, a new catering facility and the installation of fire lobbies and fire curtains.

The final scheme balances modern interventions with sensitive refurbishment to complement and articulate Holden’s original design, providing generous social learning environments whilst maintaining SOAS’s dedication to being the guardian of the listed building and to safeguarding its future.

Client: University of London & MACE

Location: Senate House, Russell Square

Size: 7,109 sqm

Photography: Matt Clayton and Timothy Soar