Zaha Hadid Modernises UK’s Oldest University Building

St Antony College Uni of Oxford

Construction on Zaha Hadid’s anticipated Softbridge building extension to the University of Oxford building in the UK is set to commence at the end of the month.

The Middle East Centre Project is an upgrade for St. Antony’s College, one of seven graduate colleges that are part of the original building. While the the building’s foundation date is unclear, it is the oldest university in the English-speaking world with teaching on the site believed to have commenced in 1096.

The modern Softbridge project will link two historic buildings, one in Edwardian and one in Victorian style, through a fibreglass composite bridge and will be built over a 1,200 square metre sunken courtyard to create additional space for a library and archive for the building.

St Antony College Uni of Oxford

Starchitect Zaha Hadid is renowned for her powerful and contemporary style, which is clearly showcased in the Softbridge design with its curving panels and glass structures. Her Softbridge design challenges the design boundaries of historic and revolutionary architecture but will contribute to the College’s vision to grow its humanities and social science research departments.

“The new library, research centre and archive for St. Antony’s College overcomes strong physical constraints to form a suspended ‘bridge’ between existing buildings – blending built and natural elements to find a coherent form – fronted by a curved frameless glass façade which sweeps above a sunken courtyard area,” Zaha Hadid Architects said.

St Antony College Uni of Oxford

The body of the main building will be clad with stainless steel, a signature material for Hadid for its light reflecting features. The foyer within the Softbridge will also double as a space for small events and exhibitions.

Inside, a series of teardrop-shaped skylights will be installed to increase natural light while the glass windows will encourage solar gain and a connection to the outdoors with floor to ceiling views.

A winding central staircase will connect the college’s reading room on the ground floor to the first floor library archive. The basement will feature a lecture theatre showcasing the vertical movement of flooring through a repetition of waved, wooden ceiling installations shaped that decorate the ceiling.

St Antony College Uni of Oxford

The entire design exudes moment through curving paths that flow through exterior panels and are visible in the curved tables and furniture.

The abstract concept was designed by Zaha Hadid Architects in 2006 but construction was delayed due to planning and funding issues.

Image Source: Zaha Hadid Architects
By Angela Fedele
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