Groundbreaking ceremony marks start of Schwarzman Centre construction

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Oxford University held a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the start of construction of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities on Thursday 23rd February. 

The University also announced an additional gift of £10 million from Stephen A. Schwarzman to the project, which brings his total donation to £185 million – the largest gift in Oxford University’s history. 

The building project is the largest ever undertaken by Oxford University and it would become one of the biggest buildings to adhere to Passivhaus standards. Now that spades are in the ground, the Centre remains on track to be completed in 2025. 

The Centre will boost teaching and research in the humanities at Oxford University and provide them with a new home which brings together seven faculties, the Institute for Ethics in AI, the Oxford Internet Institute, and a new humanities library. It has been made possible by a gift from Stephen A. Schwarzman, who is the Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of Blackstone, one of the world's leading investment firms.  

Professor Irene Tracey, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, said: "I am delighted that construction is now underway on the Schwarzman Centre site, and on track to complete in 2025. We are very grateful to Mr Schwarzman for his additional £10 million gift and I look forward to working closely with him as we move towards the building's opening. The Schwarzman Centre has enormous potential both to benefit teaching and research in the humanities, and to be a place which makes a genuine contribution to the local community in Oxford as well as the national and global cultural sector.” 

Stephen A. Schwarzman said: “I was thrilled to break ground at the Centre. It will play a vital role for students, faculty and the community and help position Oxford to answer some of the most pressing challenges of today’s dynamic world.” 

The Centre will house a full suite of high-quality exhibition and performance spaces, allowing public audiences to engage more deeply with the University. It will be a model for the essential role of the humanities in helping the world to confront some of the most pressing questions and challenges it faces today.  

It will be a building that invites the widest range of audiences inside, and its many benefits will include:  

  • Major new performances venues, including a 500-seat concert hall, a 250-seat theatre and a 100-seat Black Box space for creating and delivering experimental performances.  
  • Exhibitions, lectures and performances which bring Oxford’s research to wide audiences through the new Humanities Cultural Programme.  
  • A schools and public engagement centre to bring schoolchildren in Oxfordshire into contact with Humanities research and researchers.  
  • New access routes and landscaping which open up and connect the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter and the surrounding area. A café and other meeting spaces which are open to the public and accessible without having to pass through a security barrier.  

The Centre has already had a significant impact since Mr Schwarzman’s initial gift was announced in 2019, and recent developments include:  

  • The appointment of John Fulljames as the Director of the Humanities Cultural Programme (HCP). He was previously Director of Opera at the Royal Danish Opera and Royal Danish Orchestra. The HCP has already reached more than 750,000 people with its programme of events.  
  • The growth of the Institute for Ethics in AI to a team of over ten researchers who regularly release innovative research on the ethical considerations of AI. The Institute’s researchers are teaching a course on the topic to Oxford University undergraduates, and hold regular public events including a lecture in May 2022 by Demis Hassabis, Founder and CEO of DeepMind. Its researchers have recently been helping to shape the public debate around ChatGPT and its implications for fields like education. 

Oxford University recently signed a contract for the construction of the building with lead contractor Laing O’Rourke. The construction process itself will contribute significantly to the local and regional economy, and will comprise: 

  • 530 piles – over 10,000 linear metres when stacked end-to-end – taller than Mount Everest.  
  • 3,500 tonnes of stone for the façade (from Rutland, England).  
  • 200,000 bricks for the façade (from York, England). 

Photo: Professor Irene Tracey and Mr Stephen A. Schwarzman breaking ground on the site. Credit: John Cairns.