Enabling works have started on the 9000 m2 building, designed by Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil, an Egyptian architect who lives in Britain.
The project has a high-profile supporter in Prince Charles, a fellow of the centre who has backed the use of traditional building techniques.
The centre, which includes teaching rooms, a lecture theatre and a dining hall, is due for completion at the end of 2004.
It will include a dome and quadrangle and is described as a mixture of Oxford and Islamic styles.
The scheme will replace the centre’s base near Balliol College. It attracted some controversy two years ago when local opponents sought a judicial review of Oxford’s council’s decision to grant it planning permission. The campaigners claimed the building would be in a conservation area designated as open space for sports use.
The team working on the scheme also includes QS Ridge and Partners and executive architect Areen Design Services.