Zaha Hadid has designed a futuristic addition to the dreaming spires of the UK’s university city of Oxford.
St Antony’s College Middle East Centre now boasts a curving structure bridging two traditional 19th century buildings.
The 1,127m2 structure which connects the existing Victorian premises will house an archive, library and 118-seat lecture theater.
The $15m cost has been covered by Investcorp, an investment company which will give its name to the building and was founded by Iraqi-born financier Nemir Kirdar.
The centre, part of the University of Oxford was founded in 1957 to enable research on the modern Arab world from the 19th century to the present day.
Hadid said that as she was born in Iraq, it was “an honour” for her to design the building.
“The Middle East Centre’s work encourages discourse and debate and added it also contributes to a “greater understanding of the region”.
The Centre’s director Eugene Rogan said that when a model of the building was revealed some members of staff said the design didn’t look Middle Eastern and were expecting traditional domes and geometric patterns.
But he said that the new building: “Looks like the Middle East of the 21st century, so why should we be lagging behind the region we study?
“We should be as bold — as a scholarly community — in what we commission as is the current trend in the region itself.”
But local critics have not been so impressed. Among the comments were: “Looks like a beached whale,” said one objector. “A giant ear trumpet,” said another. A third claimed: “No, a crashed airplane”.