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The New Library, Magdalene College

by Niall McLaughlin Architects

Client Magdalene College

Awards RIBA East Award 2022 and RIBA National Award 2022 (sponsored by Forterra)

© Nick Kane

A brief to create a college library with a lifespan of 400 years – to replace a library gifted to Magdalene by Samuel Pepys 300 years previously – is no small task. Niall McLaughlin Architects have certainly risen to the challenge with this deft and inspiring temple to learning.

The library combines load-bearing brickwork with exquisitely detailed horizontal engineered timber structure to establish a lofty, surprisingly vertical space with a complex three-dimensional tartan grid. The library draws on familiar predilections from previous McLaughlin projects – the references to Louis Kahn’s handling of oak panelled window assemblies for example, via the housing for Somerville College, Oxford – while also creating something wholly particular within the setting of the wider college. As with the best of the Cambridge’s many libraries, a great diversity of spaces to read and work are established, and reflecting its planned longevity, the building feels nicely slack – bookshelves are barely half filled and an extraordinary sense of space pervades, like inhabiting a hugely luxurious treehouse.

The design of this library has been strongly influenced by the requirements to passively light (characterised by the roof lanterns), and naturally ventilate the spaces (characterised by the stack effect ventilation chimneys and openings in the roof). Overall, the project presents exceptional engagement with environmental design principles. The predicted energy performance as a result exceeds the RIBA 2030 benchmark to be one of the best performing buildings of this year’s submissions. The project is also one of the top submissions in terms of whole-life carbon considerations, and has addressed the RIBA 2025 benchmark. The structure is dominated by load-bearing brickwork, with horizontal support predominantly in engineered timber and to a lesser extent as precast lintels and support beams. These material choices have successfully reconciled the existing constraints of the historic College context to deliver a building that will present a long and sustainable service life.

Contractor Cocksedge

Structural Engineer Smith & Wallwork

Project Management Savills

Quantity Surveyor / Cost Consultant Gleeds

Acoustic Engineer Max Fordham

Environmental / M&E Engineer Max Fordham

Building Control MLM

Internal area 1,525 m2

© Nick Kane
© Nick Kane
© Nick Kane
© Nick Kane
© Niall McLaughlin Architects
© Niall McLaughlin Architects
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