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Wednesday30 July 2014

Niemeyer's lost Oxford scheme

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In the summer of 1973 I started working as an architectural assistant with Dominic Michaelis Associates.

The project I worked on was a new residential building for postgraduate students at St Antony’s College, Oxford.

The architect was Oscar Niemeyer (Obituary December 14), with Michaelis appointed by the college as executive architect. The building consisted of 15 study bedrooms which appeared to float above a semi basement containing offices, a library and a snack bar.

The principal south-west facade was intended to be made of prefabricated concrete panels, inclined at 45 degrees with 2m diameter circular windows to each room. Planning permission was obtained in January 1974 and a set of working drawings prepared by the end of March, all carefully vetted by Niemeyer’s office in Paris. According to my log book, the final estimated cost was £310,000.

The scheme was illustrated in L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui in January/February 1974. Unfortunately the stock market crash of 1974 put paid to any chance of realising the project — a great shame.

In 2003, however, I was amused to see many of the design features replicated in Niemeyer’s Serpentine pavilion — including the inclined circular aperture.

David Turrent
London SE5

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