Typical of Oxford colleges, Magdalen has evolved incrementally around a series of distinctive quadrangles. Adding to its centuries-old conglomeration of buildings presented the familiar paradox of impinging as lightly as possible on the existing site and structures, while simultaneously reorganising and remodelling them to cater for modern needs.
Throughout, the idea of subtle transformation underscores the development of the College’s new Longwall Library to create a variety of contemporary study spaces for different ways of working.
The Buckler Building, a former Victorian school, which was itself transformed in the early 1930s to accommodate the College’s original library, was gutted and remodelled, with the addition of a freestanding, three-storey oak structure. A new single-storey wing was also added, containing staff offices and a reading room.
Previously, there were just 48 study places for Magdalen’s 600 students; now there are 120 in various settings, from an intimate attic floor tucked under the ornate Victorian roof structure to rows of window seats in the new reading room overlooking Longwall Quad.
Wright & Wright also focused on rethinking how external space was used. Effectively, Longwall Quad has been transformed into an outdoor room. The central lawn remains, but is now augmented by a sunken, wifi-enabled courtyard, with planted beds and low stone walls for sitting, studying and socialising. This reworking animates and democratises what was previously inert and proscribed terrain.
Tactfully subverting the quad’s orthogonal geometry, the courtyard slopes down on a diagonal axis to the library’s main entrance. Thus the new building is both an end in itself and a component in a larger formal and spatial sequence that activates new ways of experiencing the College.
Magdalen College Library is a well-considered piece of excellent modern design.
Chris Smith OBE
National Planning Director, English Heritage
Magdalen College School
The site was formerly the home of the Magdalen College School, conceived as a full-height single hall and designed by J.C. Buckler. The foundation stone of the new School was laid on 19 September 1849, and the building was opened on 1 May 1851 with a celebratory concert.
The building was altered in 1930 by Giles Gilbert Scott when converted into the College Library. Wright & Wright's design reveals more of Buckler's original structure, and establishes a clear architectural language and distinction between new and old. The floors inserted by Gilbert Scott were removed which allows the full volume of the original school hall to be appreciated. This photograph was taken by Oxford Archaeology who meticulously recorded the archaeology and building fabric throughout the project.
- RIBA National Award 2017
- RIBA South Award 2017
- RIBA South Conservation Award 2017
- Shortlisted for WAN Award 2017
- Shortlisted for 'New & Old' WAF Award 2017
- The American Architecture Prize 2017
We opened the lower ground floor to the students today and they love it!
The Beckwith Reading Room was full by lunch time. We did lots of individual tours for students, staff, and fellows, and everyone who saw the new library was impressed. It was a cheerful day.
I am so grateful for all the hard work Wright & Wright put into this project - I love the building too, especially my office. I can't wait to move into the whole library. It's wonderful.
Fellow Librarian, Magdalen College, Oxford