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Epic Buildings: The New Mathematical Institute, Oxford University

There is no denying the rich architectural history of Oxford University. With elements of the university dating back to the 1400s, the historical wealth of this world-famous institution is visible at almost every campus across the city. So what is an architect to do when confronted by a project to design a brand new building for this illustrious college?

This is the problem which faced firm Rafael Viñoly Architects in 2013. The brand new 24,500 square foot building needed to blend seamlessly into it’s beautiful and culturally rich environment, without looking over-blown and still remaining timeless, yet of its era. Developed to house world-class mathematical research groups and facilitate academic excellence, both the architects and construction group (Pell Frischmann) had their work cut out for them. Yet the results have been superb – recognized on the Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Shortlist in 2014.

The Design

The new building fits in to the campus’s “streets and blocks” layout, keeping views and corridors between existing building clear for easy passage – and to preserve the views of historic buildings. Externally, the building was kept relatively low to avoid affecting its area’s famous skyline, and was constructed using a great deal of glass with subtle reflection-minimizing glazing to give it a light yet unobtrusive feel.

Internally, this building is all about space and light, working in collaboration to create easy navigation, communication and bright, flexible, private and communal working environments. A central atrium forms the hub of the building, featuring a light-enhancing clerestory and a clear view of the stairs and walkways which straddle the floors of the Institute. This visibility brings the whole space together as a collaborative environment, full of quiet spaces for study, held together by clean, clear architecture.

Quietness & Collaboration

Across the University, open plan spaces are the order of the day. However, at the Mathematical Institute, spaces for quiet, private, focused study are understandably important. Isolated faculty member offices with acoustic insulation have been built into the design, while self-shading louver fins on the outside of the building let in natural light and air whilst keeping each office private from the outside world.

Finishing Touches

A green roof and a roof terrace area provide an accessible natural space which makes the most of the stunning university views. External surfaces have been planted with sedum to boost biodiversity, take care of rain run-off and enhance sustainability.

What do you think of the new Institute? Is it a beautiful balance of functional and sensitive? Or is it a little underwhelming? Share your perspective with our readers below.