Proposed designs for the Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities unveiled

17 June 2021

The second public consultation for Oxford University’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities has launched today (17th June).

Images of the proposed design by Hopkins Architects are being presented to the community in Oxford for the first time and feedback is sought by 8th July. These responses will inform the planning application which will be submitted to Oxford City Council later in late summer or early autumn.

The building would be erected on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter between Walton Street and Woodstock Road, and exhibition boards for the consultation can be viewed online at www.ox.ac.uk/humanitiesconsultation. An image of the design for media use is here: https://we.tl/t-EfpySgrj7N

The Centre has been made possible by a £150 million gift to the University from Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman and CEO of Blackstone. It will boost teaching and research in the humanities at Oxford and provide a new home to Oxford’s humanities, bringing together seven faculties, a new Institute for Ethics in AI, the Oxford Internet Institute, and a new library.

Professor Karen O’Brien, Head of Humanities at Oxford University, said: “Our proposed design reflects our ambition to create a welcoming building that people will be intrigued to visit. This will be an open building which we hope will soon become a popular destination for residents of our city and county.

“We look forward to inviting everyone in to attend our events and performances, or simply meet a friend in the café. We welcome all feedback on our proposal and we will work closely with the City Council as we develop our vision ahead of the planning submission later this year."

Professor William Whyte, Professor of Architectural History at Oxford University, said: “This is a building of enormous complexity and huge ambition. Designed by a world-leading architectural practice, it will also be beautiful: a new home for the Humanities, a new public space for the people of Oxford, and an inspirational addition to the city’s architecture.”

Philip Pullman is a renowned author who set his His Dark Materials trilogy in Oxford. In the recent televised depiction on the BBC, the fictional Jordan College was revealed to be on the future site of the Schwarzman Centre in Lyra’s world. He said: “The Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities will be an exciting and distinguished addition to the architecture of this beautiful city, and what it embodies about the central place of humanities in the world of learning needs demonstrating now more than ever. I look forward to seeing it flourish.”

The Centre will also bring many benefits to the city of Oxford, including:
• Major new performances venues, including a 500-seat concert hall, a 250-seat theatre and a 100-seat Black Box lab for experimental performance. These will be open to local cultural organisations, with whom Oxford researchers will strengthen their partnerships.

  • Exhibitions, lectures and performances which bring Oxford’s research to wide audiences.
  • A schools and public engagement centre to bring schoolchildren in Oxfordshire into contact with Humanities research and researchers.
  • New access routes and landscaping which opens up and connects the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter and the surrounding area.
  • A café and other meeting spaces which are open to the public and accessible without having to pass through a security barrier.

The proposed design of the building reflects the diverse characters and identities of the varied academic and public engagement activities which will take place in the Centre. It aims to be a high-quality contribution to Oxford’s built environment while respectfully responding to its surroundings and the city’s architectural heritage.

Environmental sustainability will be a priority throughout the design and construction of the building, and the Centre will make a major contribution to the University’s aim to halve its carbon emissions by 2030 and towards achieving its ambition of net zero carbon emissions and net biodiversity gain by 2035. Features will include:

  • An energy and carbon efficient building which uses “Passivhaus” principles.
  • Solar power generation on the roof.
  • More biodiversity on the site than existed before, with planting that appeals to wildlife and options for bird boxes.
  • New planting, landscaping and green spaces.
  • No fossil fuel consumption in the building itself.
  • Very high levels of insulation to reduce the heat needed in the building.
  • Cycle parking and encouragement for visitors to take public transport, with no new parking spaces other than for disabled users.

For more information, or to request an interview, contact matt.pickles@admin.ox.ac.uk or +44 (0)7468 701499