Inspiration: Arne Jacobsen's St Catherine's College

For our Inspiration series, staff at The Modern House were asked to list the location, film, painting, building, or piece of music that first inspired their interest in Modernism.

For Emma, our Marketing Coordinator, it was Arne Jacobsen’s St Catherine’s College, Oxford, where she read for her undergraduate degree in History of Art.

Emma says:

‘I was lucky enough to live above the quad of St Catherine’s College for all three years of my undergraduate degree, and from the start was in awe of the detail with which Jacobsen had designed the site. Not only was the architecture of the buildings beautifully refined, but everything from the desk lamps in the library, to the cutlery you’d eat with in the dining hall had been designed with the cohesion of the overall scheme in mind. Rumour had it that Jacobsen had even redesigned the original electrical plug sockets to fit in with his aesthetic scheme (although, much to my relief when I came to plug in my hair dryer, he had since conceded to standard UK fittings).

I love the balance Jacobsen achieves across the college, creating an interplay between bold vertical and horizontal accents. The repetitive scheme of the windows facing out towards the main quad – broken up by stark concrete columns and rectangular floor-to-ceiling glass panels – is particularly spectacular, as is the exchange between the vast concrete beams running upwards and across the ceiling in the dining hall.

Outside, even the hedges are columnar, and contrast with the low brick walls and long rectangular ponds, creating a kind of organic structure to guide you along the pathways around the college.

There are a lot of jokes levied at Catz by other colleges for its lack of typically ‘Oxford’ architecture (think the iconic spires of Christ Church, or the Hogwarts-esque surroundings of New College), but for me the completeness and openness of the 1960s scheme made it a really remarkable place to live and study.’