The New Library at Magdalene College in Cambridge by Níall McLaughlin Architects has been named the winner of the 26th Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize. The New Library is accessible to students 24 hours per day and incorporates an archive and an art gallery.

The new replacing the old

The library is on the college grounds in Cambridge’s city centre, replacing the cramped study spaces of the adjacent 17th-century Grade I listed Pepys Library. It is also an extension of the quadrangular arrangement of buildings and courts developed from the monastic college site.  

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 and is an ode to the surrounding history.

Entering the library

  • The entrance is a graceful brickwork facade and has large wooden doors that open into a tiered, timber interior.
  • 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.
  • There is a large, vaulted lantern skylight between each set of four chimneys.
  • A connecting passageway above, along the building’s eastern end, provides views across the college and gardens and towards the river.  
  • The grid structure leans itself to an array of spaces: Zones for reading rooms and group study, and narrow zones for staircases and bookcases. There are also spaces for independent study, with desks in bay windows, in private niches and within shared zones.

Modern, yet simple

This modern, yet simple building has highly effective passive ventilation and natural lighting strategies to minimise the usage of energy, and materials such as engineered timber structures to reduce carbon embodied in its construction. 

From the jury

RIBA president, Simon Allford, spoke on behalf of the 2022 RIBA Stirling Prize jury. “A unique setting with a clear purpose – The New Library at Magdalene College is sophisticated, generous architecture that has been built to last. Níall McLaughlin Architects has excelled with the utmost skills, care and responsibility. The light-filled, warm-wood interior lifts the 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 building 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 well-being. They should be the rule for all students and teachers in all places of learning, not the exception.”

Full acknowledgement and thanks go to https://www.architecture.com for the information in this editorial.

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