An Oxford college library gets a makeover courtesy of Wright & Wright Architects
A 17th century secret passage at an Oxford University college has been transformed into a library by Wright & Wright Architects. The new pale stone building links two existing ancient libraries at St John’s College via the passage, which now houses an artwork along one wall by Kirsty Brooks.
St John’s 600 students needed renovated library and study space, with more seating, desks and shelving. And according to the college’s president, Professor Maggie Snowling, they also wanted more loos, 24-hour access and somewhere to make coffee. ‘They had voted with their feet and were working in a nearby café,’ she says.
W&W’s 1940 sq m building gives them a mix of working areas including 120 new desk spaces with Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby’s 2014 Bodleian Libraries chairs, sofas from Cassina and even W&W-designed daybeds. These soft, built-in mattress-like zones are tucked away on one side of the upper floor’s reading room. ‘They’re intended as relaxation areas, so we will see how they use them,’ says architect Clare Wright, ‘they have evoked different reactions.’
The architects have designed the furniture and fixtures to be warm and long-lasting. Oak, brass and steel are complemented by desktop surfaces and carpets of rusty red. On the top floor is a seminar room with floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, which slide open to views onto the canopies of the nearby trees.
The new study centre and library runs along one wall of the baroque Canterbury Quad and overlooks the president’s garden. To give the president some privacy, no windows look directly on to the garden, but instead artist Susanna Heron has created a cut-stone bas-relief across the west façade. Beneath this is a shallow pool, and ‘sunlight reflects off the water and animates Heron’s abstract wall,’ says Wright. She and her partner Sandy Wright visited the Spanish town of Granada, with the Alhambra’s palatial water gardens, to study reflected light.
This, W&W’s third Oxford building, will be followed by a library for Pembroke College. §