Corpus Christi College, one of Cambridge’s oldest colleges, commissioned Wright & Wright to design the Taylor Library, a replacement of the main College library. The site was a complex warren of existing buildings, spanning from the College’s founding in the 14th century to a disused Victorian bank, clustered round a neglected service yard. The challenge was to rationalise, restore and augment this disparate historic site, providing a design solution that would also make room for a new Student Centre, staff offices, and accommodations for Fellows.
Conscious of working with the existing setting, the bank building had to be retained and the new Library effectively slotted into its shell, leaving little room to manoeuvre. Nonetheless, these constraints catalyse functional efficiency, through stitching together pockets of space, and add a sense of spatial drama. Clad in honey-coloured limestone, the rear elevation of the Library forms the fourth side of a new College court created by remodelling a former service yard and the buildings around it.
The Library interior is treated like a series of giant, elegantly crafted pieces of oak furniture, deliberately pulled back from the external wall so that new and old are clearly distinguishable. Readers’ seats are concealed behind bookcases and some contained within framed balconies resembling look-out towers, reminiscent of the famous 15th century painting of St Jerome in his study by Antonello da Messina.
The new geometry of the interior is deliberately and ambiguously out of sync with the bank’s original external walls, giving the Library a seductive labyrinthine quality. More practically, the arrangement of voids and solids creates a space which can be daylit and naturally ventilated, so reducing energy and maintenance demands.
The practice cites Ruskin’s edict, “when we build, let us think that we build forever”, as a sentiment close to its heart. That attachment is borne out by the building that it has delivered — a thing of considerable substance which stands apart from the more modish concerns of current architectural production.
One suspects that in another six centuries, students at Corpus will still be able to enjoy much of the practice’s work.
Director, The Architecture Foundation
Working with the artist studio Cardozo Kindersley the main window features etched glass, the written word caught in interplay with the capture of light into the library.
St Jerome in his Study
This painting by Antonello da Messina was a key reference for the project: the scholar enveloped in a timber casket set within a masonry shell.
New into Old
Both externally and internally new materials are brought into counterpoint with the old; delicately inserting the library into the walls of the existing courtyard.
- RIBA Award 2009
- Natural Stone Award 2009
- Wood Award 2009
- LABC Building Excellence Awards: Shortlisted for Best Educational Building 2009
- LABC Building Excellence Awards: Finalist for Best Technical Design & Construction 2009
- Shortlisted for Education Architect of the Year 2009