Oxford University’s Schwarzman Centre reaches construction milestone with commencement ceremony

Friday 18th Nov 2022, 11.07am

The ceremony represents an important milestone in the single biggest capital project ever carried out at Oxford University. It marks the conclusion of preparatory construction work and the clearance of the site ready for the main construction to begin. The Centre is 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 £175 million gift from Stephen A. Schwarzman, who is the Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of Blackstone, one of the world’s leading investment firms. This is the largest donation in the University’s history.

The ceremony included speeches by Mr Schwarzman; Professor Dame Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford; and Lord Patten of Barnes, Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

I am delighted that the construction of the fabulous Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities is now underway. This centre will be transformative for the Humanities at Oxford and for the city, its residents and visitors. While we await the opening of the building in 2025 the Institute for Ethics in AI and the Humanities Cultural Programme are offering a vibrant academic and cultural programme which engages Oxford students, academics and the wider world. We are forever indebted to Mr Schwarzman for this extraordinarily generous gift.

Professor Dame Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford

Mr Schwarzman said: ‘I’m incredibly proud and excited to see the new Centre for the Humanities come to life. It will benefit Oxford students, faculty and the community for years to come and help Oxford best apply its global leadership in the Humanities to some of the most pressing questions of the 21st Century.’

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 in its early years, 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 700,000 people with its programme of events so far.
  • 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, in turn shaping the wider conversation on this critical issue. The Institute’s researchers are also 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.
  • The erection of visually compelling hoardings around the construction site on Oxford’s Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, which tell the story of Oxford Humanities and the building so far, and the establishment of a newsletter to keep local residents and other interested parties informed throughout the construction process.