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Zaha's Oxford college extension branded 'awkward'

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Zaha Hadid’s proposed extension to the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College in Oxford has been branded ‘awkward’ and ‘in constant competition with its neighbours’ by CABE.

The commission’s design review panel said the extension – a curvaceous Corian-clad link between two Victorian buildings – needed to be more ‘sophisticated and delicate to relate’ to the surrounding North Oxford conservation area.

Dubbed the Softbridge, the three-storey scheme is intended to house a reading room, library, storage space and a lecture hall.

However, the proposed internal layout of the project also came in for criticism from the design watchdog.

The report reads: ‘It appears unfortunate to position the archive and reading room behind the large south facing window; we wonder whether full sunlight and overheating could potentially compromise the usability of this space.’

CABE concludes that the scheme – which it admits is on a difficult site, and succeeds in ‘evoking a dramatic landscape’ – should be reconsidered before detailed plans are submitted.

The commission adds: ‘We do not think a balance between the new Middle East Centre, the context and the adjacent buildings has yet been reached.

‘While we support the concept in principle, in order for the building to live up to its potential and meet the aspiration of the local authority, the college and the donor, the issues stated above need to be addressed before the planning permission is given.’

Neither the college nor the architect was available for comment.

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