III. Norham Road
Between 1959 and 1963, more than half a dozen projects of this type were implemented for Norham Road by Jacques Laurent, chief architect of the Bâtiments civils et Palais nationaux, who was appointed to carry out the project of building the MFO. The plans were then taken up and amended by English consultants, the architect Eduardo Dodds and his assistant, Peter French. The MFO archives hold some of Laurent’s sketches, including this ambitious plan, which was never implemented and which dates back to October 1960, after a preliminary project was abandoned in 1959. The building is shown standing lengthways, facing Norham Road. It is two storeys high and the 'functional' and 'residential' parts of the Maison are clearly distinct, separated by an elegant glass gallery.
These are the only surviving plans in the archives of the inside of the future MFO, as imagined by Jacques Laurent in late 1960. The plate contains six drawings in total: the entrance hall, director's flat, "great hall", library, lounge and dining room. These details show the director's flat as it might have appeared at a Christmas dinner, as well as the library, for which a gallery was still planned. The second plan is a view drawn a year later, when, under budgetary pressure, the MFO lost its floors and residential part, a solution which the Oxonian town planning authorities refused to approve. The last drawing shows a phased construction plan designed by Eduardo Dodds.
Following the demolition of the houses, it was not until the spring of 1966 that construction of the new building could really begin, this time under the supervision of the Ring/Howard firm whose name is engraved at the entrance of the MFO. Here, the state of the building site in July is seen. The Norham Road building was the subject of not two but three ceremonies: the laying of the foundation stone on 15 June 1962, attended by Harold Macmillan in his capacity as Prime Minister and Chancellor of the University of Oxford; the topping out ceremony on 3 March 1967 and the opening ceremony on 18 November, attended by André Malraux. The two group photographs shown here, less known than the photographs of the laying of the foundation stone or the inauguration of the building, were taken on the day of the intermediate topping out ceremony, or laying of the last stone, which traditionally honours the building workers. The first (detail) shows a group of workers from the Benfield and Loxley company that built the MFO, led by the site manager, Mr Cox. The other shows the spectators watching from the lawn as Ambassador Geoffroy de Courcel lays the final stone on the roof of the new building. Finally, the short video focuses on the ceremony in Malraux’s honor at the Sheldonian and his speech in the MFO’s auditorium. This is the only known footage showing both the interior of the building and its gardens, as Malraux inaugurated them in late 1967.