New Oxford: some buildings constructed since 1950
Before St Catherine's College was built, the St Catherine's Society, a non-residential college, occupied buildings in St Aldate's (now the Music Faculty). Many have admired Arne Jacobsen's design for its symmetry and attention to detail. It was stipulated, for example, that there were to be no curtains on the windows (which reach down to floor level), and even the arrangement of the furniture was prescribed. Others were outraged when Jacobsen won a prize for his design, finding the doorways too small, the lack of privacy intolerable, and the whole concept of the building too impersonal. The college was given the choice of spending a proportion of the budget on either a chapel or a Music House, and chose the latter. Several college members have adopted the nearby St Cross church as a place of worship. St Catherine's is dedicated to the study of science and mathematics. It is not possible to study there Oxford's oldest subjects, Theology and Classics.
The Zoology Department used to be housed at the University Museum, while Psychology was scattered around a number of Victorian houses in North Oxford until the early 1970s. The present building is notable for its lack of windows; the Psychology library has none – instead the walls are lined with fish tanks. Legend has it that the building plans were originally intended for a hotel. Alumni include Desmond morris of The Naked Ape etc and Richard Dawkins of The Selfish Gene.
Some Science Blocks
Oxford has seen many spectacular scientific advances, including Boyle’s law of gas expansion, and Robert Hooke’s identification of the human cell, both in the 1660’s. Today, the extreme specialisation of scientists makes “Eureka” style discoveries such as these rarer; by the time a new principle becomes generally accepted, a great many people have contributed to it.
The buildings in the science area are often just as remarkable as the work going on inside them - some, like the engineering building, for rather the wrong reasons. The story goes that the engineers decided to dispense with architects and build themselves a proper department. They made their window frames out of two different metals, which in damp conditions (not unknown in Oxford) formed a battery, with a current flowing between them. Fairly swiftly, if no action had been taken, the frames would have corroded away leaving the window panes to fall out.
The Dyson Perrins laboratory bears an inscription whose meaning is not immediately obvious, but affords some pleasure to the anagrammatic mind. It gives the architect’s name and college, and a comment: “BALLIOLENSIS FECI HYDATOECUS O SI MELIUS” - “Waterhouse (Hydatoecus via Greek to Latin) of Balliol made it – O that it was better!”. If you extract all the Latin numerals (LLILICIDCVIMLIV) and put them in the correct order (largest to smallest, left to right) you find out when it was built.*
When the staircase of the Dyson Perrins was being built, there was a shortage of lab assistants. One of the bricklayers was taken on, and he was so grateful for his new position that he buried his trowel in the staircase.
*(It was 1915.)