Practice beats rivals including Carmody Groarke, Coffey and Gort Scott to Exeter College job

Nex Architecture has emerged victorious in the design competition to revamp the grade II-listed library of Oxford University’s Exeter College – beating Carmody Groarke, Coffey Architects and Gort Scott in the process.

The practice’s proposals for the Oxford college’s neo-gothic library, designed by George Gilbert Scott in the 1850s, were described as displaying an unbeatable combination of “talent, insight and rigour” by Exeter rector Rick Trainor.

Trainor said the six-strong shortlist – which also included Jonathan Tuckey Design and Lee/Fitzgerald – as “stellar”, but that Nex had been the team that “most connected” with the challenges posed by the project.

The library counts Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien among its most famous past users and Nex’s proposals include the introduction of a new mezzanine level in the building’s annexe to boost reader spaces and accessibility.

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Inside Oxford University’s Exeter College Library

The project will also involve essential repairs to the library’s fabric and service upgrades. A planning application is expected to be submitted for the scheme next year.

Nex director Alan Dempsey said the practice was “thrilled” to have been picked to proceed.

“There are some projects that have an extra-special aura, and this was one we absolutely loved,” he said.

“To take care of this building and refresh it for the next 50 to 100 years is a great privilege.”

The selection process was organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants.

Adjacent to the Bodleian Library, Exeter College Library has a timber-vaulted ceiling at the upper level and oak bookcases with decorative mouldings of fruit and foliage that were Scott’s original designs. 

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Oxford University’s Exeter College