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1850s library building is brought into the 21st century

The original building was updated and given a new extension and landscaping.

August 30, 2017 |
The plinth-like extension and renovated library building

Photo: © Dennis Gilbert.

Longwall Library at Magdalen College University of Oxford, a Grade II* listed building, has been updated to better suit the building to the needs of modern day students. The project involved renovating the existing building and creating a new extension and landscaping plan.

The historic building, which was constructed in 1851 and converted into a library in 1930, had a leaky roof, a floor plate that cut across windows blocking light and ventilation, limited accessibility, and poor insulation. As a result, it was no longer considered fit for purpose.


A study area in the Magdalen College libraryPhoto: © Dennis Gilbert.


Wright & Wright Architects was in charge of the improvement project and created a scheme that took the form of a giant inhabited bookcase and inserted it within the shell of the original 1851 building. A plinth-like extension was also created that extends into the campus’s quad. The Victorian architecture of the building was restored, which included the roof being re-laid with tiles in local Cotswold Stone placed over new insulation. The updated building is passively controlled and achieved an air tightness of 3.7m3/h.m2.

The insertion and new extension create accommodation for 120 readers, group working areas, seminar spaces, staff facilities, and storage for 3,200 linear meters of shelving, half of which is high density mobile storage racks.


View of Magdalen College Quad, showing the Main Library and new extension, as well as the new landscaping planPhoto: © Dennis Gilbert.


The landscaping work includes lush planting and stone seating to create an outdoor common area in a formerly neglected corner of the campus.

Additional improvements:

  • Restored the windows to their full height
  • Introduced air through low-level windows
  • Opened up the original eaves ventilation, chimneys, and spiral staircase to use every cavity
  • Added opening roof lights concealed behind the parapet
  • Added insulation to the roof and beneath the floor
  • Introduced secondary glazing carefully composed behind the existing glazing
  • Integrated small, low-energy heaters at readers’ feet
  • Incorporated LED lights and user-controlled PIR to improve efficiency


A study space opened up to the outside quadPhoto: © Dennis Gilbert.


The renovation and new extension from the exteriorPhoto: © Dennis Gilbert.

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