“Built to last” university library named UK’s best new building
Posted: 14th October 2022
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has named The New Library, Magdalene College in Cambridge by Níall McLaughlin Architects, as the winner of the 26th RIBA Stirling Prize.
The exquisitely detailed new building provides students at the 700-year-old University of Cambridge college with a new library – open 24 hours a day – incorporating an archive and an art gallery.
Set within the college grounds in Cambridge’s city-centre, the new library replaces the cramped study spaces of the adjacent 17th century Grade I listed Pepys Library and extends the quadrangular arrangement of buildings and courts that have gradually developed from the monastic college site.
Honouring the rich surrounding history, Níall McLaughlin Architects combines load-bearing brick, gabled pitched roofs, windows with tracery and brick chimneys that animate the skyline with contemporary sustainable design elements to create a building that will stand the test of time.
It contrasts openness with intimacy; and deftly achieves the architects’ vision for a structure that gradually rises up towards the light.
Visitors are met with an elegant brickwork façade and enticing large wooden doors, which open into a tiered, timber interior, bathed in light. A triple-height entrance hall leads into a central double-height reading room. A regular grid of brick chimneys supports the timber floors and bookshelves and carries warm air up to ventilate the building. Between each set of four chimneys, there is a large, vaulted lantern skylight. A connecting passageway above, along the building's eastern end, provides views across the college and gardens and towards the river.
The grid structure delineates an attractive array of spaces: wide zones for reading rooms and group study, and narrow zones for staircases and bookcases.
The layout also creates a range of study spaces for independent study - with desks set into bay windows, hidden in private niches and within shared zones – enabling students to be tucked away or among peers depending on their inclination.
This is a modern building that employs simple but highly effective passive ventilation and natural lighting strategies to minimise energy in use, and materials such as engineered timber structure to reduce carbon embodied in its construction.
Speaking on behalf of the 2022 RIBA Stirling Prize jury, RIBA President Simon Allford, said:
“A unique setting with a clear purpose – The New Library at Magdalene College is sophisticated, generous, architecture that has been built to last.
Creating a new building that will last at least 400 years is a significant challenge, but one that Níall McLaughlin Architects has risen to with the utmost skill, care and responsibility.
The result – a solid and confident, yet deferential new kid on the college block.
The light-filled, warm-wood interior lifts spirit and fosters connections. Students have been gifted a calm, sequence of connected spaces where they, and future generations, will be able to contemplate and congregate, enjoying it both together and apart. The overarching commitment to build something that will stand the test of time can be felt in every material and detail, and from every viewpoint. This is the epitome of how to build for the long-term.
Well-designed environments hugely improve student success and wellbeing. They should be the rule for all students and teachers in all places of learning, not the exception.
As universities across the world work hard to position themselves in an ever-growing higher education marketplace, investment in great buildings is essential. This is an exemplary model to aspire to.”
Architect, Níall McLaughlin said:
“The Magdalene College Library is a work of many hands and many minds. The College created the possibility for success in the way that they initiated and managed the project. The appointment of designers, consultants, builders, and craftsmen was treated with care. Throughout the development process, our team was supported and robustly questioned in our decisions. We knew we were building for a client who was motivated to achieve the best outcome. Our responsibility to the history and future development of this learning community was clear. We were asked to build for the long-term using present resources wisely.
This is the first time a college has won the Stirling Prize. It is good to celebrate the contribution these remarkable communities have made to the development of modern architectural culture in Britain.”
College Librarian, Magdalene College, Dr Marcus Waithe, said:
“Magdalene College’s New Library fulfils an unusually challenging brief: to erect a building at the edge of one of Cambridge’s most historically sensitive sites, and to do so without committing an intrusion. The College wanted to avoid mere pastiche, or a passive ‘blending in’. It needed to be an inspiring structure – one that would encourage our undergraduates to aim high – that still preserved a human scale. As if that were not difficult enough, it would combine a working library with an archive centre, and the Robert Cripps art gallery. The result succeeds on all these fronts and more. We are grateful to Níall McLaughlin architects, and to all those who contributed towards the funding and construction of this already much-loved library.”
The New Library, Magdalene College was chosen by the jury from the following outstanding shortlisted projects:
- 100 Liverpool Street by Hopkins Architects
- Forth Valley College – Falkirk Campus by Reiach and Hall Architects
- Hackney New Primary School and 333 Kingsland Road by Henley Halebrown
- Orchard Gardens, Elephant Park in London by Panter Hudspith Architects
- Sands End Arts & Community Centre in London by Mæ
The jury for the 2022 RIBA Stirling Prize was: Simon Allford (RIBA President and Chair), architects Glenn Howells (Founder of Glenn Howells Architects) and Kirsten Lees (Managing Partner at Grimshaw), and artist Chris Ofili. The jury was advised by sustainability expert Smith Mordak (Director of Sustainability & Physics at Buro Happold).
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