New Library, Magdalene College - Detail

April 2023
Text Heide Wessely
Images Nick Kane

Observers quickly recognise that the materials selection for the new Magdalene College library establishes a connection to the historical university campus buildings. While the latter employ wood for ceilings and stone for window tracery, Níall McLaughlin Architects create a different blend of these materials for the new library. Window frames and reveals consist of red cedar, which harmonises well with the hand- crafted loam brick from York in northern England.

Colours shift from orange-brown to red and purple and define the numerous chimneys that are arranged according to a regular grid. They serve to ventilate the building and support the floor slabs. Each chimney corner reappears in the interior as an angular column clad in brick. Book shelves, built-in closets and desks made of oak are integrated between them, as well as shafts for building utilities. The interweaved brick surfaces and wood elements establish a subtle, fabric-like texture. The floor plans are equally reminiscent of a woven tartan pattern. Squares with sides measuring 4.70 m for the read- ing areas are bordered by a network of 1.30 m wide passage- ways. The three-storey entrance hall is situated in such a square. A single-flight staircase connects it to the central reading room on the first floor. Administrative offices, a picture gallery illuminated by windows flush with floors and offering views of the garden, as well as an archive with valua- ble items such as old books are located on the ground floor. The building features very deep interiors due to its width of at least 20 m. It was therefore important to introduce day- light also from the top of the building. Roof lanterns were arranged between each set of four chimneys and comprise twointersecting pitched roofs. The fixed glazing on the gable ends provides soft illumination and offers protection from direct sunlight and glare.

The architects' design intention was to create pathways traversing the individual spaces and galleries, ascending towards the light and offering visitors a variety of places suitable for reading. This includes the large hall on the first floor, the square surfaces with their groups of six desks, or the small niches and spots along the windows that fea- ture views of the meadow and the nearby river. Its waters already flowed past the building in 1428 when the educational institution was founded – at the time, as a Benedictine con- vent school. The oldest building on the campus of Magdalene College is 400 years old. The new library is the first substantial addition in 50 years. Built from robust and high quality materials, it is supposed to serve many future generations of users.

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