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University library ‘built to last 400 years’ wins national architecture award

A university library described as the ‘quintessence’ of sustainable building has been awarded the UK’s most prestigious architectural prize.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) has named the new library at Magdalene College Cambridge the winner of the 2022 Riba Stirling Prize.

Located within the college grounds in central Cambridge, the modern 24-hour library was designed by Niall McLaughlin Architects with the aim of lasting 400 years.

A grid of chimneys supports the floors and shelves while transporting hot air upwards to ventilate the building (Riba/PA).

Sustainability was also on the agenda, and the brick structure minimizes energy consumption with a grid of chimneys that support the floors and shelves while carrying hot air upwards to ventilate the building.

Its timber frame has also reduced the carbon embodied in its construction, and tall arched windows allow natural light to flood in.

The library, which also houses archives and an art gallery, complements the surrounding quadrangular buildings and courtyards that have gradually developed from the site of the monastic college.

Riba Chairman Simon Allford described the building’s design as the “epitome” of sustainable architecture.

The new library at Magdalene College Cambridge (Riba/PA).
The building was created with a warm and bright wooden interior (Riba/PA).

He said: ‘A unique setting with a clear purpose – Magdalene College’s new library is a sophisticated and generous piece of architecture that was built to last.

“To create a new building that will last at least 400 years is a tall order, but one that Niall McLaughlin Architects has taken on with the utmost skill, care and responsibility.

“The result – a strong and confident, yet respectful newcomer to the college block.

“The interior bathed in light and warm wood boosts morale and promotes bonding.

“The overriding commitment to building something that will stand the test of time is felt in every material and every detail, and from every vantage point.

“It’s the epitome of how to build for the long haul.”

Architect Niall McLaughlin said the university asked him to “build for the long term” and use resources “wisely”.

“The Magdalene College Library is the work of many hands and many minds,” he said.

“The College created the opportunity for success in the way they initiated and managed the project.

“The appointment of designers, consultants, builders and craftsmen was handled with care.

“Throughout the development process, our team was supported and strongly questioned in our decisions.”

The new library at Magdalene College Cambridge (Riba/PA).
Students can take advantage of large reading rooms and private offices embedded in bay windows (Riba/PA).

The exterior of the library features pitched gabled roofs, tracery windows and elegant stonework.

Inside, students can enjoy expansive reading rooms, private offices encased in floor-to-ceiling windows, and narrow areas for stairs and bookcases.

Magdalene College Librarian Dr Marcus Waithe described it as an “inspiring structure”.

“Magdalene College’s new library responds to an unusual challenge: to erect a building on the edge of one of Cambridge’s most historically sensitive sites, and to do so without intruding,” he said.

“The College wanted to avoid mere pastiche, or passive ‘assembly’.

“It had to be an inspiring structure – one that encourages our students to aim high – while maintaining a human scale.

“As if that weren’t difficult enough, it would combine a working library with an archive center and the Robert Cripps Art Gallery.

“The result succeeds on all of these fronts and more.”

The 2022 Riba Stirling Prize award ceremony will take place at the institute’s headquarters, 66 Portland Place in London.

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