Construction of world-class 500-seat concert hall reaches milestone

The Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for humanities is being funded by gifts totalling £185 million from the philanthropist and businessman Mr Schwarzman.

He is the chairman, chief executive and co-founder of the Blackstone investment firm.

Oxford Mail: Stephen Schwarzman

A small ‘topping out’ ceremony will take place to mark the erection of the highest part of the building at the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter site on Woodstock Road on Friday (May 3).

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Construction of the building is well under way and it is scheduled to open in autumn 2025.

The centre designed by Hopkins Architects will be home to a 500-seat concert hall and 250-seat theatre.

Speaking at the meeting in 2022 where the plans were unanimously approved William Whyte, professor of architectural history at the University of Oxford, described it to councillors as “one of the most exciting building projects the university has ever undertaken”.

He said: “For the first time in its 800-year existence, this is a building built by the University of Oxford which is intended to be open to the public.

“Every other building was built to exclude but this is a building which will only work if we can attract people to the performance venues.”

The building would be accessible to the public every day between 9am and 9pm.

Oxford Mail: Schwarzman Centre

The 500-seat hall has been designed to provide world-class acoustics for performances by ensembles and chamber orchestras of up to 60 musicians and would also be suitable for small symphony orchestras.

The 250-seat lecture theatre would be used for large lectures during term-time, but would also be able to accommodate not only student-led dramatic performances but also professional plays and theatre.

The plans were also largely approved by Oxford Preservation Trust who said the development “is an individual high-quality building on a surprising scale”.

The Oxford Preservation Trust said it was “fully supportive of the new humanities building and welcome the introduction of these new uses aimed at creating a place which draws people in, rather than keeping them out, as so many college and university buildings and sites can do”.

Oxford Mail: Schwarzman Centre

In addition to the concert hall and theatre, the building will also include an 89-seat lecture and film screening facility, a school engagement centre, and a Bate collection of musical instruments and library.

Alex Hollingsworth, the city council’s cabinet member for planning and housing delivery, said: “I think it’s potentially a huge asset to the city.”

Oxford’s music community welcomed the prospect of a new concert hall in addition to University Church, the Sheldonian, Exeter College Chapel, other churches and the concert hall at St Edwards School.

Lindsay Sandison, director of the City of Oxford Orchestra, said: “We’re spoilt for choice but it’s wonderful, the more the merrier, it will be fantastic. I’m very much looking forward to going there when it opens.”

It will not, however, become home to the City of Oxford Orchestra.

She said: “I think we will always stick to the Sheldonian. I’m sure it will be wonderful but we love the Sheldonian.

“I know the seats aren’t very comfortable but it’s such a wonderful building, designed by Christopher Wren with so much history attached to it and it’s just so much part of our lives really.”

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The centre will also boost teaching and research in humanities at the university and bring together seven faculties, the new Institute for Ethics in AI, the Oxford Internet Institute, and a new humanities library – at the former Radcliffe Infirmary Hospital, which closed in 2007.

Author Sir Philip Pullman set the His Dark Material trilogy in Oxford, with the fictional Jordan College on the site of what will become the centre.

He has also backed the building, saying: “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.” 

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