European oak adds warmth to Cambridge library

Cambridge library

More than £300,000 of European Oak timber was used to create the new Magdalene College Library in Cambridge. TDUK spoke to timber supplier James Latham to find out more.

From Niall McLaughlin Architects’ initial sketches through to the delivery, fabrication and installation of engineered timber components, the new Magdalene College Library in Cambridge stands in testament to the beauty, versatility and sustainability of timber.

Magdalene College by Niall McLaughlin

Magdalene College by Niall McLaughlin

Built alongside the Grade I-listed Pepys Library, it is the first substantial addition to the main site in more than 50 years.

The library’s design is based on an arrangement of simple brick volumes, with timber windows and pitched roofs echoing the gabled architecture of the existing college.

Inside, the building’s structure is clear to see. Glulam beams support cross-laminated timber floor slabs, which are supported on load-bearing brick piers. The architect’s intention was for all the key features to appear as an interwoven set of elements.

Solid furniture for the ages

Cambridge-based bespoke joinery firm Wedd Joinery was commissioned to manufacture all the furniture within the library, including bookc

Magdalene College by Niall McLaughlin

Magdalene College by Niall McLaughlin

ases, desks and various other pieces. The specification was for solid timber, as Magdalene College wanted to build something for future generations.

Wedd chose to work with Florian-machined European Oak on the advice of timber and materials supplier James Latham, which recommended the product due to its high-quality finish and strong performance features.

Machined Florian Oak is hard-wearing and mechanically resistant, responding well to compression and bending, as well as being highly resistant to mould and fungus – making it perfect for furniture applications.

Suitable for pieces used in busy, public environments which require high-durability, its high-functionality is complemented by its timeless visual appeal. Light tan to biscuit with silver grey figure on quarter-sawn, it possesses a pleasant stratification which mellows and lightens over time.

Adrian Roker at Lathams says: “We love working hand in hand with our customers to help them find the materials that are the right fit for their projects. It has been amazing to watch this project come to life, with one of our highest performing products being used to such an exceptional standard.”


Magdalene College by Niall McLaughlin

Magdalene College by Niall McLaughlin

Versatile timber offers visual consistency

As well as the solid lumber used in the library’s furniture, Lathams also recommended WoodEx Engineered Florian European Oak was also used for its external doors and windows. This ensured visual and stylistic consistency throughout the space, while harnessing the higher thermal performance qualities and moisture and warping resistance features of engineered timber, which is crucial for this type of application.

Exclusive to James Latham, WoodEx is a versatile, premium-quality, engineered hardwood timber product made from either European Oak, Sapele, Redwood or Red Grandis. Combining high performance with aesthetic appeal, WoodEx is often used for windows and doors because it provides a better thermal performance than solid wood. It is also highly stable and resistant to warping, hugely reducing the need for maintenance once in situ.

While WoodEx’s appearance is akin to solid timber, it has the advantage that the visual face and two sides are clear of defects, making it particularly suitable for joinery projects.

This highly specialised work carried out by Piper Joinery, which has a longstanding reputation for combining skill with agility. Brought onto the project by Wedd, Piper Joinery approached the task with their signature precision and attention to detail to achieve a seamless finish.

Simon Lock, Commercial Director at Wedd Joinery, says: “We have worked with Lathams for more than 50 years. They will always be one of the companies we go to at the early stage of a project involving solid timber. At the end, it came down to the important balance of service, quality and price.

“I genuinely believe that a solid oak project on this scale is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we are delighted to have been involved in it. The fact that we were part of the team that was recognised so highly for that work really is the icing on the cake.”

Royston Cobb, Managing Director at Piper Joinery, adds: “The Magdalene College Library project presented the perfect opportunity for our team to showcase their considerable craftsmanship, which can be observed in the finesse of the joinery on the windows and doors. Working alongside some of the best people in the design and build sector, as well as with such a high-quality material, was a great experience all round. The results speak for themselves.”

For the Magdelene College Library project, Lathams supplied more than £300,000 of Florian-machined European Oak and Woodex Engineered Florian European Oak.

The project was chosen as winner of both the Gold Award and the Education and Public Sector category of the 2021 Wood Awards, and also received the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize for 2022.

Project Information

  • Architect: Niall McLaughlin
  • Client: Magdalene College
  • Location: Cambridge
  • Structural Engineer: Smith & Wallwork
  • Main Contractor: Cocksedge
  • Timber supplier: James Latham


  • This article was originally published in Issue #01 of Supplying Timber magazine.