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New library for St John's College, Oxford

Designed by Wright & Wright Architects, the new facility will open on October 12

Posted by Julian Owen | October 02, 2019 | Bricks & mortar

Next week will see the opening of a striking new library and study centre at St John's College, Oxford. 

Linked to the 16th century Old Library and 17th century Laudian Library, the new building was designed by Wright & Wright Architects. 

Hailed as a “fitting space for students and scholars now and for centuries to come” by president of St John’s College, Professor Maggie Snowling, the facility will open on October 12. 

“When St. John’s College decided to build a new library and study centre, it had a long list of requirements,” said Professor Snowling. “Since it would be the first time in the college’s history that it had built a library specifically for its undergraduates and graduates, it had to cater for the diverse study needs of current and successive generations of students, and it was also important to consider the impact of the library on the environment. In short, it had to be an awe-inspiring building at the heart of college.” 

To that end, Wright & Wright collaborated with artist Susanna Heron to create ‘Stone Drawing’, a cut stone bas-relief across the west facade of the building, which had to be windowless in order to preserve the privacy of the president’s garden. The intricately textured elevation, in creamy Clipsham limestone, overlooks a shallow reflecting pool acting like a small moat, separating building and landscape. 

Housing three levels of library space, the building was conceived as a series of overlapping planes of masonry and glass, sculpting and moderating light, and giving each space a distinct character. Inside sits almost 2.5km of open access shelving, a librarian’s office with dedicated space for researchers to view special collections, a four-person reception desk with cataloguing space, self-issue points and provision for lockers, refreshments and network terminals, plus an exhibition space. 

Facilities are augmented by an oak-lined seminar room, which can accommodate up to 50 students, plus pocket courtyards for informal study, relaxing and socialising. 

The library combines access to hard copy media, digital media and special collections, as well as spaces for peer-to-peer learning. Each of its 120 new reader seats are tailored to different forms of study, accommodating individual or group configurations. A combination of level access and adjustable desks for wheelchairs or standing users are on offer, each fitted with power, data and adjustable lighting. 

Designed using a zero-carbon strategy, the development’s sustainability measures include a ground source heat pump and photovoltaics, and passive means of environmental control, including natural ventilation and prodigious roof glazing to admit natural daylight.

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