The first day of classes set a great pace for the next two weeks, as students met their teachers and ploughed straight into the subject matter of their chosen courses. There was a fair amount of experimentation involved across the board―and particularly with new materials―as Engineering students were tasked with executing an egg drop from a second floor window, and Architecture students made a study of structure using marshmallows and dry pasta.
The new and unusual elements of the morning lessons found their counterparts in the more traditional subject matter on offer in the afternoon activity―a tour around the key historic and cultural sights of the city of Oxford. However, students were reminded that even buildings that look old and established to us now were once the untried brainchildren of thinkers and creators of former times.
For example, Christopher Wren’s designs for the Sheldonian Theatre were scoffed at by his peers in the 17th century, who preferred the more conventional Gothic style. It is supposed that Wren’s design was based on the Roman Theatre of Marcellus, which, like any Mediterranean theatre of the first century BC, was built without a roof; Wren solved this problem not through the tried and tested route of the Gothic roof, but employed the ‘geometric flat floor’ of mathematician John Wallis, so that the ornate ceiling of the theatre supported the structure and cupola above it. Students were fascinated to hear about this inter-disciplinary innovation being brought to bear on the construction of a building that is, to so many of us, such a classic mainstay of the Oxford skyline.