OXFORD, England (Reuters) - Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born architect, has designed a futuristic addition to the Oxford University campus: a curvy bridge building for St. Antony’s College’s Middle East Centre that was inaugurated on Tuesday.
The 1,127-square-meter structure, which connects two existing Victorian premises, will house the center’s archive, library and 118-seat lecture theater. The 11 million pound cost has been covered by Investcorp, an investment company which will give its name to the building and was founded in 1982 by Iraqi-born financier Nemir Kirdar.
Hadid in 2004 became the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Eight years later, having completed the Aquatics Centre for the London 2012 Olympic Games, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Oxford University’s Middle East Centre was founded in 1957 to enable research on the modern Middle East: the Arab world, Iran, Israel and Turkey from the 19th century to the present day.
Explaining her decision to take on the commission, Hadid recalled that she was born in Iraq, and that it was therefore “an honor” for her to design the building.
“The Middle East Centre’s work encourages discourse and debate,” she said, adding that it also contributes to a “greater understanding of the region”.
The Centre’s U.S.-born director Eugene Rogan said that when an architectural model of the building was first revealed to alumni, many objected that the design didn’t look Middle Eastern. They were expecting domes and geometric patterns typical of the region’s historic architecture, he said.
The new building “looks like the Middle East of the 21st century, so why should we be lagging behind the region we study?” Rogan said.
“We should be as bold — as a scholarly community — in what we commission as is the current trend in the region itself.”
Rogan pointed out that Hadid built a great deal in the Gulf and elsewhere in the modern-day Middle East.
He said he had approached her after previous plans by an Oxford-based architectural practice were “shot down” for conservation reasons by the Council: the edifice would have blocked the green spaces between buildings.
Hadid’s design, too, was “divisive,” he said. Some councillors determined to preserve the “Victorian, leafy character” of the area “thought it was the wrong idea”.
They were narrowly out-voted, Rogan said.
Editing by Michael Roddy and Hugh Lawson