Winner of the 2022 RIBA Stirling Prize and the Gold Award at the 2021 Wood Awards, Magdalene College library is a stunning example of thoughtful design, carefully blending old and new to create a beautiful and inspirational space that encompasses the best in sustainable design.
The new library at Magdalene College - part of the University of Cambridge, was purpose built to replace the former library. Built alongside the Grade I-listed Pepys Library, it is the first substantial addition to the college’s main site in over 50 years.
The three-storey building was designed by Niall McLaughlin Architects, who combined simple brick volumes with timber windows and pitched roofs to echo the typical gabled architecture of the existing college while employing modern methods of construction (MMC).
The library is arranged in a tartan grid and interconnecting rooms are lined with solid timber bookcases, reading desks, and galleries. Workspaces were carefully designed to fulfil the needs of the students; whether they prefer individual desks or large communal tables, there is a place for everyone.
Sustainability without compromise
The design of the new library maximises the use of natural lighting and passive ventilation while minimising the reliance on energy-consuming systems.
Fresh air is provided through the openings in the façade which are automatically controlled by heat and Co2 sensors. This means warm and stale air is extracted through the chimneys and openings in the roof.
Meanwhile, to reduce energy in use, the building fabric has a high degree of thermal performance and airtightness.
Design and materials
A combination of materials was used in the construction of the new library at Magdalene College, including timber, brick, reconstituted stone, and concrete.
Brick cavity walls and the central brick chimney structures form the core load-bearing elements of the building and are interlocked by the roof and floors, which are made from Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and Glue Laminated Timber (glulam).
Use of timber
To build the new library, traditional methods of bricklaying were combined with modern methods of construction. Precisely cut CLT panels and glulam were fabricated offsite and used for the horizontal structure, helping to reduce the embodied carbon of the whole building. Meanwhile, load-bearing brick piers rise up to support the lintels that span in two directions.
As a result of the careful planning which went into the execution of the construction process, and careful installation of the different structural elements, the library can be viewed as a ‘celebration of craftsmanship’.
As the purpose of the building is to provide a study space for students, ways to limit noise had to be considered during the design of the building. To create a quiet environment, acoustic mounts were placed on the CLT slabs and through absorption behind wooden slatting in the roof lanterns
Not only does the use of timber provide a beautiful, warm environment and structural strength, it also reduces the building’s embodied carbon. The total carbon sequestered in the timber is 160t. Meanwhile, with a predicted design life of more than 50 years, the library will, like the college itself, stand for many years to come.