I will never forget the first moment I walked into the 8th floor of the Radcliffe Science Library…
It was the evening around 6pm and I was alone looking to bury my head in a multitude of books commenting on the National Health Service. But as I opened the door, I looked down the hall and saw a sea of books, manuscripts, notes and articles. I held my breath for a second and then just simply said, “woah..”
The picture above is the hallway of the 8th Floor Radcliffe Science Library that I had taken.
I had visited the Wellcome Library in London and had a similar experience. But it was not as impactful despite the Wellcome reading room being much larger in size than the Radcliffe reading room .
Above is a picture of one of the main reading rooms of the Wellcome Library in London. Image courtesy of “No Wriggling Out of Writing”.
I still cannot quite fathom why the Radcliffe struck such a sweet chord. Perhaps it was the smell of the aged wood or the arched entrances to each set of book shelves. Or maybe the large windows that brought in light to fully illuminate the entire hallway, employing trace amounts of unnatural light in the process.
Another interesting comparison I made was that of the overall nature of the building styles in London and Oxford. I felt London was a metropolis where the old remnants of history in the form of buildings and cobble-stone streets were awkwardly juxtaposed with much more modern structures. For example, it was off-putting to see the old Tower of London, made primarily of Kentish rag-stone and Caen stone, just down the River Thames from the glass-based Shard Skyscraper.
Below is a comparison between the Oxford and London “skylines”…On the left is the Shard and accompanying buildings in London and on the right is the Sheldonian and other accompanying buildings in Oxford. Both are pictures I had taken during the trip.
In “A Walk Around the Block,” Rivkin and Lynch talk about how “emotions are associated with spatial coherence (or lack of it) in the whole scene” (Lynch, Rivkin). In London, I didn’t get a sense of spatial coherence and instead was confused as to how to identify the city: modern or ancient? Whereas in Oxford, there is a distinct sense of spatial coherence where I can surely identify the city as largely ancient. Of course, Oxford also has its share of modern sights and shops, as does any 21st Century town. But overall, Oxford’s “old is gold” identity does not waver across the city.
In terms of the social environment, Oxford’s High Street is largely desolate and empty in the nighttime from my personal experience, whereas the streets of Soho in London are absolutely buzzing with excitement well into the night. This phenomenon can be partially explained by the fact that the University of Oxford is in vacation term now, but also because London is simply a larger and more populated city compared to a smaller town that is Oxford.
To the left is an image of Soho at night in London courtesy of WW Superstock.
Also there was a more diverse crowd of people in London pubs ranging from wealthy businessmen to taxi drivers to cricket players! Whereas in Oxford pubs, I saw mostly the same middle-class student crowd or an occasional tourist or two during the nighttime.
But one of the major similarities in built environment between London and Oxford is the presence of green spaces and open gathering places. In London, right next to our hotel was Russell Square, a beautiful gathering place for residents and tourists alike. Similarly in Oxford there are a multitude of gardens among the various colleges and open recreation grounds with areas for freeplay. For example, just at the intersection of Marston Road and High Street there is Headington Hill Park, where I play “ultimate frisbee” with fellow students in the evenings. These common areas foster intellectual discussions, social interaction and exchange of ideas. The theme of exchange of ideas is a central topic that we are studying right now, because through the exchange of knowledge our understanding of the world in the form of both liberal arts and sciences grows exponentially.
Also both cities have many different buildings that were inspired by the classical renaissance that swept across all of Europe and the UK. In both Oxford and London, the main founders behind the transition from gothic to classical architecture were Inigo Jones and Sir Christoper Wren. Wren created “a major public building…the Sheldonian [which was] the first classical building in Oxford and an explicit attempt to emulate Roman grandeur” (Gerbino, Johnston) and also “repaired the crumbling medieval fabric of old St Paul’s addressing, above all, the hazardous state of the central tower.” (Gerbino, Johnston). This transition of architectural forms is an example of how pre-existing precedents can be supplanted with new thought over time. This concept is also an integral part of our coursework here as we can use it to understand how the teaching of hard sciences at Oxford slowly supplanted the clerical education system that was in place since the beginning of the institution.
There are many similarities and differences in both the built and social environments of London and Oxford, but both cities exemplify the key concepts we are exploring in the course such as the social transfer of knowledge and evolution of education.
Gerbino, Johnston: https://catalyst.uw.edu/workspace/file/download/7b1f71d7f82214ef1fa291ea0eff313ed00dcfcf019e6e3848a7afb1bd1a1258?inline=1
London Sorted: http://www.londonsorted.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/stpauls.jpg
Soho Picture: http://wwwdelivery.superstock.com/WI/223/1954/PreviewComp/SuperStock_1954-2553.jpg
Wellcome Library: http://nowrigglingoutofwriting.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/reading-room-wellcome-library-london.jpg