An inner courtyard at Middlesex University's Hendon campus has been converted into a glass-topped atrium in a transformation reminiscent of one of Britain's best-loved pieces of architecture.

The Quadrangle cost £30 million to build and forms what the university calls the nucleus of the Hendon campus'. The 1930s courtyard has been topped by a 160sq m glass and steel roof; the grass and tarmac replaced by limestone slabs and a dark limestone fountain; with glass and steel staircases, walkways and a lift tower leading to six newly refurbished lecture rooms, 60 revamped classrooms and a new computer laboratory.

The university atrium is designed to be flexible enough to suit a range of functions, including a meeting area and an open performance area which could include jazz and dance performances at lunchtimes as well as student services desks and a reception desk.

The transformation, which is similar in design and impact to Sir Norman Foster's celebrated metamorphosis of the Great Court at the British Museum, is part of a £50m redevelopment. The first stage of the project, the £20m Sheppard Library, opened last September.

Dean of the business school and director of the Hendon campus, Dennis Parker, said: "We wanted to create a social space for students and there was nothing like this in the university before. The feedback we have had from students is very positive. It's also great for those never-ending winters we're having as it's heated in winter and cooled in the summer. A lot of our overseas students are not used to the cold in winter.

"We have not altered the external facade which has been the same since 1939 when it was Hendon Technical College, but it was a drab building and needed to be updated. We don't have a problem with mixing old and new design, it's not that avant-garde."

The Quadrangle, which Mr Parker says will be renamed The Rickett Quadrangle after a former dean of Middlesex Polytechnic, and other developments were funded by the sale of other smaller Middlesex University campuses, including Tottenham, Bounds Green and Bedfordshire. Another stage of the redevelopment, the refurbishment of the Williams Building into office facilities for support staff, has now been shelved, no longer deemed necessary.