An East Anglian RIBA Stirling Prize winner

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An East Anglian RIBA Stirling Prize winner

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has named The New Library, Magdalene College in Cambridge as the winner of the 26th RIBA Stirling Prize.

Designed by Níall McLaughlin Architects, the building provides students at the 700-year-old University of Cambridge college with library, archive and an art gallery.

Set within the college grounds in Cambridge’s city-centre, The New Library replaces the cramped study spaces of the adjacent 17th century Grade I listed Pepys Library.

It extends the quadrangular arrangement of buildings and courts that have gradually developed from the monastic college site.

Visitors are met with an elegant brickwork façade and enticing large wooden doors, which open into a tiered, timber interior, bathed in light.

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.

Between each set of four chimneys, there is a large, vaulted lantern skylight.

A connecting passageway above, along the building’s eastern end, provides views across the college and gardens and towards the river.

The grid structure delineates an attractive array of spaces: wide zones for reading rooms and group study, and narrow zones for staircases and bookcases.

The layout also creates a range of study spaces for independent study - with desks set into bay windows, hidden in private niches and within shared zones – enabling students to be tucked away or among peers depending on their inclination.

This is a modern building that employs simple but highly effective passive ventilation and natural lighting strategies to minimise energy in use, and materials such as engineered timber structure to reduce carbon embodied in its construction.

RIBA President Simon Allford said: “A unique setting with a clear purpose – The New Library at Magdalene College is sophisticated, generous, architecture that has been built to last.

“Creating a new building that will last at least 400 years is a significant challenge, but one that Níall McLaughlin Architects has risen to with the utmost skill, care and responsibility.”

College librarian, Magdalene College, Dr Marcus Waithe, said: “Magdalene College’s New Library fulfils an unusually challenging brief: to erect a building at the edge of one of Cambridge’s most historically sensitive sites, and to do so without committing an intrusion.

“The College wanted to avoid mere pastiche, or a passive ‘blending in’. It needed to be an inspiring structure – one that would encourage our undergraduates to aim high – that still preserved a human scale.

“As if that were not difficult enough, it would combine a working library with an archive centre, and the Robert Cripps art gallery.

“The result succeeds on all these fronts and more. We are grateful to Níall McLaughlin architects, and to all those who contributed towards the funding and construction of this already much-loved library.”

Picture credit: Nick Kane