Wright & Wright’s upgrading of the Oxford college’s facilities boldly reworks its Victorian New Library
On the drawing board: Magdalen College library
Wright & Wright Architects is adding to the historic estate of Oxford University’s Magdalen College with an extension and reworking of the grade II* listed New Library.
The library was originally a single hall school designed by JC Buckler in 1851, and was extensively redesigned in 1930 by Giles Gilbert Scott, who converted it into a library with space for 12 readers and a librarian.
The college now requires room for 120 readers in various study settings plus additional meeting, storage and staff facilities. Wright & Wright’s task was to meet these needs with a clearly contemporary intervention while respecting the existing architecture. While the library requires 3,000 linear metres of book space, half of this will be on mobile oak storage in preparation for a less book-based future.
Scott’s alterations inserted new levels into the hall, breaking up the single grand space, and providing Wright & Wright with a useful precedent for change. Its design solution proposes both a bold reworking of the Buckler interior plus a new
L-shaped extension, which will stretch along the rear and continue at right angles to the original along the Longwall boundary, where the edge of the college grounds are marked by a high 15th-century wall. New landscaping adjacent to the extension will create additional external seating in the quad within a scented garden.
In the Buckler building, Wright & Wright is planning to dig down deeper than Scott’s basement extension to provide space for servers, book storage and toilets.
In the original main space, the architects will take out Scott’s new levels to reveal the full height of the hall and its windows, and then add a freestanding, oak-clad intervention rising high into the space like a giant piece of furniture.
This removable steel-framed structure houses three levels of study areas and a new staircase and glass lift. Students can also sit at tables within the cathedral-like void. All furniture is oak and bespoke.
The practice hopes this structure will give users a greater appreciation of the original building by taking them closer to the splendid timber-trussed roof and the long windows, which before the Scott alterations were high above the readers’ heads.
“A clear architectural language will be established, distinguishing between old and new, set in a meaningful relationship that will create spatial tension,” says partner Clare Wright.
At the lower level, the Buckler building will be extended forward within the footprint of a terrace created by Scott to form a new plinth to the original. This carries on around the Longwall to create a contemporary building in its own right.
The fully accessible entrance will be on the corner, with the existing building to the left and the new reading room opening to the right. New accommodation will be clad in Clipsham stone, with York paving used for the new stepped landscaping and continuing inside through the new spaces. It will incorporate two new modest courtyards, positioned in front of gates within the wall. These will neatly bookend the development.
Views through the new accommodation are important, along with the creation of different types of study space — some secluded, others open. In the extension, for example, students can either sit at group tables near the garden, or in cosy, top-lit secluded spaces on the other side of the central book stacks. These have views through to the courtyards.
Alternatively, they can use the separate, square room at the far end with more relaxed seating, or study externally on the wi-fi-enabled terraces. The bold new plans are entirely appropriate for the evolving nature of historic Oxford estates, says Wright.
“The college has always changed. They take extraordinary care of historic buildings, but also strive for what’s best now by adding to the portfolio that’s been built up over five centuries in a sensitive but contemporary manner,” she says.
An archaeological dig has started on the site ahead of the building work. This will be followed by underpinning work to the estate wall in preparation for construction next year.
New approach is breath of fresh air
Natural ventilation overcomes noise and heat pollution
Wright & Wright worked with Max Fordham to create a new passive ventilation strategy for the library, which suffered from noise pollution and overheating. Its roadside windows could not be opened due to the noise from the busy main road, so achieving adequate natural ventilation was problematic.
The solution is two pronged. Existing lower ground floor windows will admit air through an attenuated plenum that absorbs noise and pollutants.
This air will pass up into the roofspace and out through the original filigree-patterned timber ventilation ducts. They will be adapted with an atten-uated plenum to dampen the sound, and a top-hung, double-glazed vent to admit light.
These additions will be concealed by the library’s castellated parapet. The whole roof will be insulated beneath its slates. Opening windows onto the quadrangle will further assist ventilation.
The design team hopes the result will be a greatly improved thermal and acoustic performance, achieved with minimal intervention to the grade II* listed building.
The current library has 420 hours per year above 24°C. This should be reduced to 110 hours, with overheating eliminated in the busiest months of May and June.
For the hotter, quieter summer months, cooling will be supplemented with the use of borehole cooling and a heat exchanger to provide cooling via the heating pipework.
Client Magdalen College
Architect Wright & Wright (Jan Ali, Poul Anderson, Tim Atkinson, Laura Baron, Jaeyoon Kim, Rachel O’Grady, Jacqueline Stephen, Stephen Smith, Clare Wright, Sandy Wright)
Environmental engineer Max Fordham
Structural engineer and historic buildings adviser Alan Baxter & Associates
Quantity surveyor and CDM coordinator Gardiner & Theobald