Zaha Hadid's Oxford college project
to start on site


News: Zaha Hadid's planned extension to a centre for studying Middle-Eastern culture at the University of Oxford is set to begin construction later this month (+ slideshow).

Middle East Centre at St Antony's College, Oxford, by Zaha Hadid

Zaha Hadid Architects designed the addition in 2006 for St Antony's College, one of the seven graduate colleges that comprises the UK's oldest university. A series of planning and funding issues had delayed construction but the ground breaking is now scheduled for 30 January.

Middle East Centre at St Antony's College, Oxford, by Zaha Hadid

The extension will provide a new library and archive for the Middle East Centre, the college's facility for the study of humanities and social sciences in the Arab World. Built using stainless steel and glass, the structure will bridge the gap between the centre and a neighbouring college building and will appear from the street as a reflective tunnel suspended in space.

Middle East Centre at St Antony's College, Oxford, by Zaha Hadid

A staircase will wind up between the two storeys of the building to link a large ground floor reading room with a first floor archive dating back to the start of the nineteenth century, as well as a lecture theatre in the basement.

Middle East Centre at St Antony's College, Oxford, by Zaha Hadid

The project forms part of a wider masterplan for St. Antony's College proposed by architects ADP. Meanwhile, British architect Alison Brooks is currently working on a scheme for a new quadrangle at the university's Exeter College.

Middle East Centre at St Antony's College, Oxford, by Zaha Hadid

Zaha Hadid has also been in the news recently over a building she designed in China, which has been pirated by a rival developer.

Middle East Centre at St Antony's College, Oxford, by Zaha Hadid

See all our stories about Zaha Hadid »

Here's a project description from Zaha Hadid Architects:

Middle East Centre, St. Antony's College, University of Oxford

The Middle East Centre of St. Antony's College is the University of Oxford's centre for interdisciplinary study of the Modern Middle East. The centre was founded in 1957 and it is focused on research on humanities and social sciences with a wide reference to the Arab World and its geographic adjacencies. The Centre's research core is a specialised library and substantial paper and photographic archive covering material from 1800's onwards. At present, the Middle East Centre's Library and Administration facilities are housed in the former Rectory of the Church of SS. Philip and James at 68 Woodstock Road. The archive is housed in the basement of the neighbouring property at 66 Woodstock Road, sharing the building with other facilities and rooms of the college. The Middle East Centre also had 3 workrooms in the same property. To tie in with the St. Antony's College future plans the Middle East Centre is planning a new Library and Archive to meet the current use for research and academic activities. Construction for the Zaha Hadid Architects designed scheme, situated in the garden plot between 68 and 66-64 Woodstock Road, is due to commence in January 2013. The new building will comply with the College's vision for growth and add formal coherence to the existing quad, and tie in with the ambitious ADP's masterplan for St. Antony's college.

Middle East Centre at St Antony's College Oxford by Zaha Hadid

Above: ground floor plan - click above for larger image

Architect's statement

Our approach is to define a series of plateaus and territories where different academic and research affiliations can be apparent from the character of the interior space. Form is driven by a series of tension points spread on a synthetic landscape that blends built and natural elements. The new structure deforms and adapts to this new abstract environment, revealing paths and flows, whilst containing the more introvert aspects of the programme brief. The new bridging form allows for programme connection at different levels, gradating space in relation to the public/ private dichotomy. The intention is to create a suspended structure that allows for the more public aspects of the brief to infiltrate the building and spill into the college's curtiledge facing the Hilda Bess building. This is a flexible territory where space is layered through contrasting use of built elements and materials.

Middle East Centre at St Antony's College, Oxford, by Zaha Hadid

Above: first floor plan - click above for larger image

The main bridging shell is linked to this open area by a central staircase that lead the user to the centre's main academic components, the new library and the new archive. The contrast in scale and depth is highlighted by a concave/convex nature of the main reading spaces, where the limited variation of use is complemented by material difference in relation to the public plateau. By lifting the connection between 68 and 66 Woodstock Road, it allows for a more diverse and complex articulation between the interior and exterior and well as the programme brief elements themselves, opening up new public spaces and reconnecting the Middle East Centre with the south boundary of the College through a new organized quad link. By defining the main bridge in terms its flow and dynamism, we allow for the existing structure to be read as separate elements, complementing their current detached character.

Middle East Centre at St Antony's College Oxford by Zaha Hadid

Above: long section one - click above for larger image

The building does not aim to impose; but instead the floating nature of the 'bridge' is emphasised via the chosen cladding material. The main building body will be clad with stainless steel, which has a light and ephemeral appearance, because the existing context of listed buildings and trees are mirrored in its surface; as are the ever changing light conditions and seasonal changes.

Middle East Centre at St Antony's College Oxford by Zaha Hadid

Above: long section two - click above for larger image

The impression of a floating link is further supported through the use of frameless glazing to the base of the stainless steel clad main body. Located here on the ground floor of the Softbridge building is the foyer, which doubles up as a multipurpose space for exhibitions or small events. The expanse of frameless glass towards the landscaped area in front of Woodstock Road encourages to linger, rest and reflect.

Middle East Centre at St Antony's College Oxford by Zaha Hadid

Above: long section three - click above for larger image

Viewed from the South where also the entrance is located the building opens itself up towards the internal courtyard, where a new landscaped level connection is being created as the access route between the new Gateway building and the Softbridge building.

  • Mat

    I feel sorry for the students.

  • Christian

    Another building that further distances architecture from non-architects (the people our buildings serve). Even I, as an architect, had to read the description to work out how the building supposedly relates to its context. People experiencing the building, without the aid of a textual description, will not think to themselves as they walk around: "oh look, the buildings form is clearly driven by a series of tension points spread across a synthetic landscape." So what's the point in that archi-babble driving the design? Instead people will probably reduce the building down to a skin-deep assessment of either thinking it looks "good" or "bad" because there's no deeper, more meaningful or obvious connection to the context for them to appreciate. Another nail in the coffin for our profession.

  • Alex

    OK Zaha, that's enough now

  • That’s not the best from Zaha, although from some point of views I definitely like it. But these spaces aren’t for study, that’s sure…

  • Antonian

    FYI, St Antony's is one of the seven *graduate* colleges of Oxford University. Overall, there are 38 colleges in Oxford.

    • Hi Antonian, yes you're right, I've tweaked the story to make that clearer. Amy/Dezeen

  • Turnip

    Good job Rhino!

  • zaha hadid

    Apologies for the unresolved connections and clunky design work; I was pressed for time as I has a party to get too, but hey it kind of looks like a Zaha Hadid building still if you squint a bit – and it only cost them £100 million. Bargain, hey!

  • Daniel

    I like the lecture theatre interior but that's it. All the rest is just meaningless tripe. I see no design, just exercises in shape making.

  • sam

    The arrogance of that woman is beyond comprehension.

  • alimac

    And in that time Bennetts Associates are just completing a larger building for the same college that got planning after the Zaha scheme.

    Just saying.

  • dUMB

    Another spectacular 'blobular' tour de force though if I had to nitpick one couldn't help but notice that rather awkward right angle junction between the floor and wall at the bottom of the stairs – pity.

    Particularly like the angled curving wall behind the long desk in the reading room – perfect for falling onto and leaving your face imprint on the dust – brilliant!

    What is so fascinating about this approach is that one project shape can be morphed into the next and so on presenting an infinite stream of variable shapes, effortlessly contextual, spreading glamour in a grey world, obscure yet understandable, friendly but slightly risque, inhabiting every corner of the planet and analogous to contemplating the outer limits of the known universe – supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

  • Re: Every moaner above.

    People on the the internet love a good moan. Here I am moaning about the moaners. That’s some next level moaning right there!

  • Charlotte Wilson

    It seems a very insensitive way of extending and renovating upon an existing building if you ask me!

  • Sam

    It would have been nice if the design for this extension had referenced traditional Middle-Eastern architectural themes in some way. This is incredibly generic.

  • Taylor

    My favorite moment is when Hadid’s structure reaches out to the neighbouring college building… only to connect to the window of a toilet.

  • Lohan Grinn

    Re: Person complaining about the moaners:

    Perhaps you could explain why all the moaning here is not valid. Personally, and in my informed opinion, it is wholly valid; this proposal IS awful. It has little-to-no interest in providing well-considered, well-articulated space for students and sticks two fingers up at its context or any true notion thereof. Someone here already said that they ‘feel sorry for the students’ – if I were a student there I’d be enraged by the level of condescension and lack of sentiment apparent in this ‘design’.

  • It may be generic but it is very beautiful nonetheless.

    • Emma

      Relative of Zaha?

    • Lydia

      Nah, it's ugly, random, unresolved, inefficient, loud and expensive for no reason. That entrance corner where the timber wall meets the curved white wall makes me sad. I wish 2013 brings back lightness simplicity and reason in our designs. Thank you.

  • To all the haters: how many of YOUR buildings are being made?

    • blah

      Well that’s a nonsensical comment. Look at someone like Lebbeus Woods. Only one of his buildings got made and he was HUGE. Doing something badly is not automatically better than not doing anything at all.

  • If it had been a rectangular volume, using the same material, people would have loved it.

  • Anton Huggler

    Barnacles come to mind!