Carlisle Construction Materials (CCM) Europe explains why EPDM was chosen for a spectacular curved Zaha Hadid Architects design at Oxford University

Founded in 1957, the Middle East Centre at St. Antony’s College serves as the University of Oxford’s facility for research and teaching on the Arab world including Iran, Israel and Turkey from the 19th century to the present day. The centre has been housed at 68 Woodstock Road (the former rectory of the Church of St Philip and St James, built in 1887) since 1978.



he heart of the institute is the extensive archive, which was created in 1961 and has been continuously expanding. To date, it contains more than 400 collections of private documents and more than 100,000 historic images.

The centre was also getting an increasing number of students, and the steady growth of the archive and library led to space constraints, so a spatial solution was required.

The university turned to Zaha Hadid Architects, the London-based architecture firm, with a global presence and well known for its unique and striking designs.

Zaha Hadid Architects designed a sculptural new building with a shimmering stainless steel facade for the Middle East Centre.

The new building doubles the space available for the Middle East Centre’s expanding library and archive, providing almost 1200m² of additional floor space and a new 118-seat lecture theatre. The Middle East Centre holds Oxford University’s primary collection on the modern Middle East, a world-class collection of private papers and historic photographs used by scholars and researchers with an interest in the region.

Known as the InvestCorp Building, the lecture theatre will allow the centre to expand and host seminars, lectures and debates – much of which is open to both the university and the general public.

The extension demanded sophisticated design and creative thinking. “We have a heritage-protected building on one side, and in the middle of the property there is also a large Californian sequoia growing,” remarked Johannes Hoffmann, Project Manager in charge of Zaha Hadid Architects.

The new construction closes the gap between the listed institutional building of the Middle East Centre in Woodstock Road no. 68 and the dormitory of St. Antony’s College located in Woodstock Road no. 64/66.

The design also considers and maintains a respectful distance from the 100-year-old Californian sequoia; the west facade conveys a height between these two existing buildings and a drainage system laid in the ground protects the root system of the natural monument.

Structurally, the building comprises a cast in-situ concrete frame, the first-floor slab of which will cantilever out, partially supported on a large V-shaped column on the west side to give the impression that the stainless steel tunnel above is floating. The tunnel itself will be formed around a ribcage-like structure of 34 thick curved glulam beams positioned on top of the first floor slab and clad in the reflective stainless steel.

The architects, in turn, orientated themselves with the height of the existing university buildings in the eastern facade, which faces the inner courtyard of the campus. “The design has a very complex shape that could be compared to the shape of a horse saddle,” commented Stewart Orton, Technical Services Manager at Carlisle Construction Materials (CCM) Europe’s UK office.

From the eaves of the Middle East Centre, the facade rises to a remarkable 13m height of Hilda-Besse building, a 1970s Brutalist-style college building dominating the inner courtyard.

The curved eastern facade contributes to creating around 1200m² of space for the Middle East Centre. The building includes a basement and two and half floors.

The ground floor includes a cafe and an open-plan multipurpose area. A freestanding staircase leads from the entrance area to the upper floor which houses the central reading room of the library. The reading room is well lit with 25 peardrop-shaped skylights.

Due to the rise of the building to the south, the architects were able to get a sufficient room height so that a second floor level for the reading room of the archive could be achieved. The glazed south facade offers a complete view of the campus. The glass surfaces of the facade designed as a post-and-rail construction were provided with a screenprint in dot form. A column-free lecture hall with 117 seats was built in the basement. With new archive space and the use of roll racks, the architects succeeded in doubling the existing archive space, so that sufficient storage space is now available for the future expansion of the collection.

The basement floor is largely glazed and so the supporting structure made of orbit is revealed, the upper floors and roof are enclosed in a reflective stainless steel panelling.

Around 300 freely-formed, partly doubly-curved panels made of 2mm-thick stainless steel sheet with electropolished surface were used.

To achieve the impression of a continuous flowing stainless steel skin, the horizontal joints between the homogeneously reflecting surfaces were designed as hair joints. Only the 10mm-wide vertical joints interrupt the dazzling outer skin. The individual facade elements vary in shape and size between 1.5m wide and up to 5m in height. “In order to maintain the illusion of a homogeneous outer skin, we wanted to use as few panels as possible,” explains Johannes Hoffmann. “This is all the more important if you use a reflective material that clearly shows gaps. Due to the reflective metal panelling, comparable to a ‘studded bathroom mirror’, the volume of the structure seems softer and therefore gained a nickname ‘softbridge building’ during the design process.”

A complete EPDM facade waterproofing solution

The roof and facade of the expressive design by Zaha Hadid Architects merge seamlessly with each other for the ‘InvestCorp Building’. To prevent water from penetrating, the architects specified a complete waterproofing solution from CARLISLE CM Europe. Under the reflective outer skin of the sculptural geometry is a substructure made of laminated timber covered with 18mm plywood boards.

A sealing system with coordinated components from CARLISLE CM Europe was installed. The entire structure was covered with self-adhesive ALUTRIX 600 vapour barrier membranes installed on FG35 primer. This made the building watertight during the ongoing extensive construction and detailing. The details were further sealed with HERTALAN KS96 sealant as added watertightness.

Then 120mm-thick PU insulation boards form the thermal protection layer bonded to the ALUTRIX layer. The waterproofing layer was formed with HERTALAN Easy Cover EPDM membrane which was installed to prevent water from penetrating the structure. The 1.3mm-thick EPDM membrane was glued with contact adhesive HERTALAN KS205 to give it longevity.

“Condensation naturally forms in the cavity beneath the stainless steel panels of the outer skin and the entire building, as any condensation or water ingress is addressed by the EPDM membrane,” explains Stewart Orton, CARLISLE CM Europe’s Technical Services Manager.

The installation and sealing of the 25 peardrop-shaped skylights in the roof with EPDM membranes required special attention. Each skylight has a drainage system that collects rainwater and drains it via a hidden drain in the interior.


A waterproofing system used on flat roofs has much to endure. Above all, moisture, thermal and mechanical stresses (wind, sun, cold, precipitation and so on) lead to serious material demands which quickly age many waterproofing systems. It is no wonder that the procedure for producing EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber) received a Nobel prize.

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