£11m St Antony’s College project links historic buildings and curves round 100-year-old tree

Zaha Hadid Architects has completed a new £11m building for the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College, Oxford.

The scheme, once known as the Softbridge, links two period buildings on Woodstock Road with a strikingly contemporary stainless steel structure whose design is intended to preserve their detached character.

It provides 1,127sq m of extra floor space and a 117-seat subterranean lecture theatre, doubling the space available for the centre’s expanding library and archive.

The need to expand the teaching space was becoming acute with student numbers growing dramatically in recent years. Part of the lecture programme will be open to the public.

In a statement ZHA said of the so-called Investcorp Building: “Its design weaves through the restricted site at St Antony’s College to connect and incorporate the existing protected buildings and trees, while its stainless steel façade softly reflects natural light to echo the building’s context.”

To the west, the project’s scale defers to the existing buildings of 66 & 68 Woodstock Road, curving to accommodate a century-old sequoia tree and its extensive root network. A drainage system has been installed below the foundation slabs to ensure the tree receives enough moisture.

To the east, the archive reading room and librarians’ offices rise towards the height of the 1970 brutalist Hilda Besse Building it faces, yet the Investcorp Building remains below the roofline of the adjacent Edwardian building.

Speaking about the design on Newsnight last week, Hadid said: “It’s very important to contrast modern buildings with old buildings,” she said. “History was made through many layers. There was no time where people said ‘you can’t build another layer’. It’s layer over layer and eventually over time they work together.”

The Baghdad-born architect also spoke of her sadness at the violence in the Middle East.