Photo credit: Nick Kane
Photo credit: Nick Kane
Photo credit: Nick Kane

The new Library is located next to the 350 year old Pepys Library, where Samuel Pepys’ diaries are kept in oak bookcases he designed in 1666. The rest of the College’s library outgrew this old building, so a new space, adjacent to it, was commissioned. The new library required an architectural response sensitive to its historic context but also called for a bold, visionary design fit for generations to come. Niall McLauglin Architects succeeded in creating a building that weaves seamlessly into the existing fabric of the College as well as launching it confidently into the future.

The handmade brick, reconstituted stone lintels, exposed spruce glulam beams and CLT soffits give the building a strong sense of materiality that celebrate both traditional and modern construction methods. Brick piers support precast lintels that in turn support the glulam beams, the CLT floor panels are then fixed to the glulam beams. Both the bricks and the glulams were specially made for this project: a new brick range was created and Neue Holzbau (n’H) created an extra high visual grading, just for this building.

The plan of the 3-storey building is generated from a tartan grid with alternate spacings of approximately 5.4m and 2m. Structural brick piers are located where the 2m grid lines intersect, at roof level these brick piers become chimneys, characteristic of the roofscape of the College and the wider city of Cambridge.

In plan, the larger 5.4m squares form the interior spaces, and create a series of intimate reading rooms on the top 2floors, while the intersecting 2m grids become passageways and stairs connecting these rooms. On the ground floor the plan opens up to house larger spaces such as a Gallery and Archive.

The expertise of n’H International and Eurban can be seen in the detailing at the interfaces between the engineered timber and other structural elements. The connection at the ‘hashtag’, where four glulams intersect, is achieved either by factory-machined slotted connections or hidden steel and resin fixings, pre-installed in the factory, images b-d. Such details require high degrees of precision on site in the horizontal and vertical planes. Cocksedge who were the Principal Contractors achieved the accuracy required for the supporting structure, facilitating a smooth and fast installation. The beams were craned into position and simply slotted into each other.

As one of the key components of the structure, the detailing of the engineered softwood glulams fabricated by n’H International, was critical to achieving the desired aesthetics. Notches were processed at the beam intersections to help simplify the installation. GSA fixing technology, developed in Switzerland by n’H international combines resin and steel rods within the timber beams and enables the load transfer in a neat hidden connection that is simple to install. Such details showcase the value of pre-manufactured off-site timber construction.

Project Team:

Client: Magdalene College Cambridge

Architects: Niall McLauglin Architects

Engineers: Smith and Wallwork

Timber Engineers and Specialist Installers: Eurban

Suppliers (Glulam and Oak window frames: n’H International Ltd

Suppliers (CLT): Stora Enso

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