Founded in 1957, the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College serves as the University of Oxford’s facility for research and teaching on the Arab world, Iran, Israel and Turkey.
Now completed, the Centre’s new Investcorp Building, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, will provide 1,127 square metres of additional floor space and a new 117-seat lecture theatre. This doubles the space available for the Middle East Centre’s expanding library and archive, and provides optimum conditions to conserve and manage the Centre’s 400-plus collections of private papers and over 100,000 historic photographs.
The Investcorp Building complements the college’s ongoing development. 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.
The building integrates new academic and research facilities within a design defined by the existing built and natural environment of the college. The project maintains the detached character of the college’s current buildings, allowing them to be read as separate elements, while introducing a contemporary building that conveys the past, present and future evolution of the college, university and city.
To the west, the project’s scale defers to the existing buildings. The curved form of the library reading room’s western façade accommodates the century-old Sequoia tree and its extensive root network, while 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 1970s brutalist Hilda Besse Building it faces, yet the new Investcorp Building remains below the roofline of the adjacent building.
The 117-seat lecture theatre is located below ground and is ventilated through a thermal labyrinth. A similar labyrinth exists beneath the library archive room to achieve the essential environmental controls and mitigate the need for mechanical air-handling. A ground source heat pump provides active ground coupling controlled for both temperature and humidity, creating a secure environment to conserve the centre’s renowned collections.