The Middle East Centre at St. Antony’s College, Oxford serves as a centre for the entire University. At its core is a specialized library and extensive archive. We were commissioned to design a scheme to expand the centre by using a garden plot that links existing premises – complying with the college’s clearly defined vision for future growth and adding formal coherence to the existing quad.
Our intention was to create a less restrictive research environment and improve links between the centre’s academic and social functions. The strong physical constraints imposed by the scale and position of the site demanded a bold and distinctive solution.
In response, we conceived the new connecting building as a series of plateaus and territories, in which different academic, research and social functions are ‘signposted’ by 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 environment, revealing paths and flows. The new ‘bridge’ connects existing elements at different levels – its suspension allowing more public aspects to infiltrate the building.
Bridge form and public spaces are linked by a central staircase, connecting to the centre’s main academic components – with contrasts in scale and depth highlighted by the convex or concave form of the reading spaces. Elevating the bridge allows for a more diverse and complex articulation between interior and exterior.
The sweeping form of the bridge is mirrored in the forecourt area where a curved frameless glass façade reveals the public plateau, frames the main access point and cuts across a sunken area, suitable for private reflection.