Zaha Hadid Architects has completed work on a striking new £11 million (US$17 million) addition to the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. Contrasting markedly with nearby Brutalist and Victorian architecture, the modernist Investcorp Building is clad in stainless steel and sees the architect's distinctive flowing style used to great effect.

Comprising 1,127 sq m (12,130 sq ft) of usable floorspace split over three main floors and a basement, the Investcorp Building (named after the company that stumped up the cash for the project) doubles available space for the Middle East Centre. The building features a reinforced concrete primary structure, a glulam (glued laminated timber)-framed roof, and is clad in polished stainless steel. Its flowing form moves between two other buildings, and also curves to avoid harming a protected sequoia tree.

The interior is finished to a very high standard, and the decor is dominated by oak veneer timber panels and unfinished pre-cast concrete. The new rooms in the facility include a lecture theater, a gallery, library and archive reading rooms. The archives room boasts over 400 collections of private papers and 100,000 historic photographs concerning the modern Middle East for scholars and academic specialists to pore over.

The 118-seat lecture theater features a complex ventilation system which introduces cold air underneath the seats, while rising warm air is collected from near the roof. A ground-source heat pump aids temperature control in the archive, and two thermal labyrinths are employed to passively cool the building's interior during warmer weather. We've no further information on how the thermal labyrinths work, but they likely involve a number of lengthy concrete corridors deep in the ground in which air can be cooled or warmed by making use of the earth's natural insulating properties. In addition, 25 skylights ensure ample natural daylight permeates the building.

"As one of Britain’s most acclaimed architects, with roots firmly in the Middle East, Zaha Hadid was the ideal choice for this project," said Director of the Middle East Centre, Dr Eugene Rogan. "Her history parallels our vision of Oxford’s Middle East Centre as a British center of excellence with deep roots in the region. With this new building, the Middle East Centre enters a new era as one of the world’s finest research facilities on this area of crucial public interest."

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