Magdalene College Library

Magdalene College by Niall McLaughlin

Magdalene College Library

Magdalene College Library has been described as a ‘tour de force of architectural design and achievement’. From the architects’ sketches through to the structural engineers’ solutions and the delivery, fabrication, and installation of engineered timber components, the library stands testament to the beauty, versatility, and sustainability of timber, and the rich collaboration of the team behind it.

Magdalene College by Niall McLaughlin
Timber Buildings
Magdalene College by Niall McLaughlin
Magdalene College by Niall McLaughlin

Magdalene College Library has been described as a ‘tour de force of architectural design and achievement’. From the architects’ sketches through to the structural engineers’ solutions and the delivery, fabrication, and installation of engineered timber components, the library stands testament to the beauty, versatility, and sustainability of timber, and the rich collaboration of the team behind it.

From the original pitch to the clients by Niall McLaughlin Architects, through to the completed building on site, Magdalene College Library connects the monastic, medieval past of the college with its present – and future – residents. Built alongside the Grade I listed Pepys Library, the new building appears externally as an arrangement of simple brick volumes with timber windows and pitched roofs, echoing the gabled architecture of the existing college. While it may be the first substantial addition to the main college site in over 50 years, careful design means it blends into and enhances the surrounding architecture.

Inside the new library is a suite of interconnecting rooms lined with bookcases, reading desks and galleries arranged on a tartan grid between interlinking passageways. Three main reading rooms provide the principal circulation route through the library, from the three-storey entrance hall to a double-height central reading room, up to a long single-height room with a view out to the garden at the top of the building. The stepping of these spaces in section is followed by the stepping of the plan form, which allows the building to address the differently scaled garden spaces on its east and west elevations.

The intention is for all the key features to be perceived as an interwoven set of elements. Roof lights, columns, floor beams, shelves, windows, desks, and balustrades form a coherent warp and weft throughout the space. The roof is formed of a grid of timber lanterns with glazed gables separated by wide internal gutters, with the lanterns bringing light into the depth of the plan, while their geometry limits glare and overheating.

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