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Weird and wonderful Oxford architects designs

6 Sep '19

Headington Shark
The Turf
Duke Humfrey's library

When you think of Oxford architecture the images that come to mind are of stunning university buildings built from traditional materials in conservative styles. However, that is not always the case. Oxford architects also enjoy surprising us with weird and wonderful designs that we are not always expecting.

Giant fibreglass shark

To kick us off, what could be weirder than a giant shark sticking out of a residential house? No, really! Residents in Headington were given quite the surprise one night in 1986 when a giant fibreglass shark was seen being lowered onto the roof of Bill Heine’s home on 2 New High Street. The 25-foot shark was sculptured by artist John Buckley and commissioned by Bill himself. When asked for his rationale on the subject Bill remarked: The shark was to express someone feeling totally impotent and ripping a hole in their roof out of a sense of impotence and anger and desperation…. It is saying something about CND, nuclear power, Chernobyl and Nagasaki.’ Of course, any of you that have tried to gain planning permission will know that this didn’t go down to well. Oxford Council tried to have the shark removed, but it was deemed structurally safe and there are certainly no laws against giant sharks attached to buildings, so, up until now, it has remained.

A sighing bridge

Less weird, more wonderful, the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ joins two parts of Hertfort College on New College Lane. The Bridge was named ‘Hertford Bridge’ but was lovingly nicknamed The Bridge of Sighs after being thought to resemble the Venetian Bridge. However, unlike the Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge, it was not built with this Venetian Bridge in mind. The college, mostly designed by Thomas Jackson, built the walkway so students could easily pass between the newer and older college buildings, and the bridge was actually designed with the Venetian Rialto Bridge in mind instead.

A higgildy-piggidly haunted pub

When delving into the more historic buildings of Oxford, the Turf Tavern comes to mind. Known more commonly as simply ‘The Turf’ the pub is the popular frequent of many Oxford students. Located down cobbled alleyways it can be difficult to locate; many Oxford residents still struggle to find it on a night out, but the history of the pub is fascinating. It is located alongside the old city wall and was built on this side of the wall to fall outside of the city boundaries, and therefore outside of certain jurisdiction. Given it was the hub of many an illicit plan back in the day, the Turf regulars needed to be away from prying eyes and ears! If paying it a visit for its quirky higgildy-piggidly architecture, spare a moment to look for the resident ghost ‘old Rosie’ still walking the halls looking for her lost love. She reputedly drowned herself in the river when he didn’t return from the civil war battlefield. The pub is popular with locals and celebrities alike and became the regular hotspot for Harry Potter actors when they were filming in the city.

Hogwarts library

Speaking of Harry Potter, we couldn’t discuss the weird and wonderful architecture of Oxford without a nod towards some of the marvellous buildings used in filming. One of the lesser known architectural inspirations is Duke Humfrey’s Library within the Bodleian Library. It is the oldest reading room within the library and up until recently, functioned as a reading room for maps, music and pre 1641 rare books. On the first floor of the Bodleian library the room has been designed in an ‘H’, with the later parts as the uprights. The Duke Humfrey’s library was used as Hogwarts library throughout the filming of Harry Potter and can today be visited during a short tour.


Although Oxford is not the biggest of British cities, we are always in awe of what our Oxford architects have accomplished over the centuries, providing us with endless inspiration, stories and pride. To have our architecture stand beside these legends motivates us every day.


Thinking of adding your own project to Oxford’s outstanding architecture? Contact our Oxford architects with your ideas.