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The St Cross Building

The St Cross Building, home of the Law Faculty and the Bodleian Law Library, is a Grade II* listed building, a celebrated work of the late Sir John Leslie Martin (architect of the Royal Festival Hall in London) and Colin St John Wilson (architect of the New British Library). Also a major contributor to the project was Patrick Hodgkinson (principal architect of London's Brunswick Centre) who was then based at Martin's studio in Cambridge. Design and construction took place between 1960 and 1964.

St Cross Building from St Cross Road
St Cross Building
The Bodleian Law Library in the St Cross Building

The building is made up of three interlocking cubes of different sizes, with a central common area containing lecture theatres and rooms where the cubes overlap. According to Geoffrey Tyack's Oxford: An Architectural Guide (1998), "Martin subscribed to Le Corbusier’s belief that “the plan is the generator [of form]”, and the form of the building is determined by the internal arrangement of differently sized boxes – placed at different levels and ingeniously interlocking with one another.  The resulting agglomeration of massive cubic blocks is clad in buff brick – chosen, though this is not very apparent to the observer, to harmonize with the stone of the adjacent Holywell Manor and St Cross Church – and broken up by long strips of plate glass windows in metal frames: a favourite Corbusian mannerism.  The most striking feature, though, is the monumental staircase, leading from St Cross Road to the English and Law Libraries on the top floor, and conjuring up subliminal images of the Odessa steps in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin – a film much admired in the 1960s."

The largest of the three cubes, straight ahead as one climbs the staircase, contains the glass-ceilinged and galleried central space of the Bodleian Law Library. The medium-sized cube contains the English Faculty Library, and the small cube (formerly the Economics and Statistics Library) was redeveloped in 2011 to provide a new seminar room and offices for the Law Faculty. The internal finishes were all specified by the Martin studio. In Oxford Modern: a Guide to the New Architecture of the City and University (2001) Philip Opher notes that “[t]he building has been detailed with great care and exquisite taste, inspired by the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and Dutch building of the 1920s.”

Almost all Law Faculty lectures and seminars are held in the St Cross Building. Most academic administration is also carried out there. However, following the Oxford practice, most Law Faculty members are based in their colleges and do not have an office in the St Cross Building.


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