For over 40 years, St John’s College had been looking for a way to extend its historic Laudian Library in Canterbury Quadrangle. Wright & Wright's new Study Centre and Archive resolved this conundrum. Balanced in scale, faced in stone sumptuously modelled by artist Susannah Heron, it sits discreetly behind a 17th-century wall in the President’s Garden, connected with Canterbury Quad but also read autonomously as a new building in its own right.
Housing the College’s world-class Special Collections and containing 120 reader desks, the new Study Centre creates an active connection between Canterbury Quad and the more modern elements of the College, strengthening links between different eras. The site in the President’s Garden was chosen as it had the least impact on existing surroundings and landscape, while enabling library resources to be consolidated in a single location in strictly environmentally controlled conditions.
Our new Library and Study Centre is a wonderful building, full of innovative reading spaces and of light, and with stunning views over the Groves.
The Study Centre reflects the values of St John’s in so many ways: it is a building designed to support excellence and will stand as a symbol of our commitment to scholarship and to diverse study needs for generations to come.
Professor Maggie Snowling CBE
Former President, St John's College Oxford
Set along the east edge of the garden, the Study Centre is accessed by the Otranto Passage, a long, thin corridor now refurbished to create a new route through Canterbury Quad. Conceived as series of overlapping planes of masonry and glass, the Study Centre resembles a stone casket, with a complex section and thick-skinned walls that sculpt and moderate light, giving each space a distinct character.
Poetry is combined with pragmatism, as the building incorporates a number of environmental control measures designed to reduce its energy consumption, such as a high thermal mass, heating provided by water from ground source boreholes and photovoltaic panels. Such measures are designed to fully offset the building’s carbon emissions to achieve a carbon neutral status.
Step-free access was ingeniously solved by reusing a hidden passage in a 'blind' wall in the ground floor of the cloister. This led to a pivotal point in the plan where a new metal staircase was threaded through a delicate array of existing historic timbers. The result is a carefully poised interplay between old and new.
Stone Drawing by Susanna Heron
The concept of richly ornamented stone was important to Wright & Wright from the outset, partly inspired by the original Baroque carvings in Canterbury Quadrangle and more profoundly, it also alludes to the Jungian ideas of archetypes, in that certain patterns and rhythms have deeply embedded primordial roots in human consciousness, concealing and revealing an abstract, dreamlike world.
Entitled Stone Drawing, Heron’s carving passes across the irregular grid of the stone wall, combining the ornate and organic with the rectilinear geometry of the architecture. The work takes advantage of the changing light on the west face, so that lines appear and recede, while shadows are cast through the day.
Kirsty Brooks, working is glass, helped Wright & Wright create spaces that are about illuminance and transparent layering. Her work depicts the history of the College and is displayed in the refurbished Otranto Passage - the route into the new Study Centre.
A space was created between the new Study Centre and the Laudian Library to house artworks specially commissioned for the site. The College appointed Mary Lum to engage with the Library's collections in creating an original work.
Mary Lum's tapestry which, in her own words, is based on the condition of 'in between' is located in a space which functions as a transitional or interconnecting hall between two sections of the building. The design is derived from fragments of texts in the College’s Special Collections which together create a new piece that can be read literally.
St John’s College commissioned Susan Morris to create a tapestry artwork for its new Library and Study Centre. The work ‘Silence (on Prepared Loom)’ comprises a series of six woven tapestries taking inspiration from the context of the Library, its architectural design and setting.
The tapestries were woven directly from a 50-minute sound recording made in the garden on the other side of Sprott’s Wall, a boundary shared between the garden and the library. The garden itself is visible through the single window in the second bay of the reading room, and can be regarded as part of the overall piece.
The approach to site specific artist commissioning has been led by the vision of the College’s presidents, bursars and art panel members, working with Modus Operandi, who have generously afforded opportunities for other creative minds.
- The American Institute of Architects Excellence in Design Awards 2022 Exemplary Performance in Sustainability
- RIBA National Award 2021
- RIBA South Building of the year 2021
- Schuco Sustainability Award 2020
- Oxford Preservation Trust Award 2019
- CIBSE Building Performance Award 2022
- CIBSE Public Project of the Year 2022