November: An ever-changing Oxford

November: An ever-changing Oxford

Strolling through the City streets, there is never a moment when a building isn’t changing, whether it is adding something into, or onto, the existing, or taking that away to make space for something new.  An army of cranes walks across the skyline, a permanent, if moving, feature within the dreaming spires.  Without this activity we would struggle to host our OPT Awards each year, celebrating the conservation of the best of the old and encouraging the best of the new.  We’ve been running the Awards for 42 years and this year had a record number of entries at nearly 60.  This made for an entertaining evening a couple of weeks ago, when all the entries were on display and William Whyte, OPT Chairman, held the room taking us through each one. The quality of the entries was there for all to see, from the Beecroft Building which had won an RIBA prize to St John’s Library which has yet to make it to the national awards.

A couple of years ago we had one stand out entry submitted by the team who put architectural lighting on the Radcliffe Camera.  I had been there on that late September evening in 2017 and the memory had stayed, not just of its beauty and that of the other University buildings that were lit up,  but of the warmth of the mood of the Oxford people who came.  The OPT Awards didn’t have a category to fit temporary, so this got us thinking. This year we introduced a new Temporary Projects category and received four great entries from Indie Oxford’s Pop up in the Covered Market, to the temporary hoardings at the Story Museum and Wadham College’s Iffley Road campus.  The clear winner was the entry from TORCH, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, Victorian Speed of Life where researchers and artists came together to create a light and sound installation, which brought history to life against the backdrop of the Radcliffe Infirmary, and all aimed at younger and local audiences. 

And now TORCH have gone and done it again, as part of last weekend’s Christmas Light Festival.  Once again, the Radcliffe Infirmary building was transformed, a veritable feast for the senses, with every part of the building coming to life in light and sound to tell stories of ancient cultures, alongside a TORCH spectacular bringing their own work to life.  On my way across town,  I cut through Wellington Square Gardens which had been transformed into a magic place beneath the trees, alive in the gaze of the Celestial Sound Cloud an interactive light sculpture by artist Pif-Paf which could sense the movement and sound of the crowd changing light and harmonies.  This was all thanks to the Oxford Playhouse who take part in the Light Festival every year, taking performance out into the streets.   The light festival has grown into an important event in the Oxford calendar bringing communities together with much of the fun had in the run up to the evening as lots of young people in their schools and clubs make their own paper sculptures and then take part in the lantern parade which marks the start of the Festival.   This year’s Parade from the Covered Market and through the streets, was met by a jolly throng of visitors, friends and family, who had braved the cold and the wet to be there.  Earlier in the evening I’d bumped into Tish Francis and Rosemary Roberts, who nearly twenty years ago had put on the first ever Oxford lantern parade for Oxfordshire’s Own Millennium Festival - OOMF.  That was when the kernel of the idea of opening up Oxford’s buildings happened, which has now become Oxford Open Doors.  These two festivals now attract 35 – 40,000 each year.  The evening over I walk below the strings of, now shining, Christmas lights, and smile at the throngs of tired and happy young people and their families who fill the buses, being careful not to spoil their paper creations as they take them home to be treasured as a reminder of a very special Oxford night.