Emmanuel College Library, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Kilburn Nightingale

Following an invited competition, Kilburn Nightingale were appointed to undertake the refurbishment and extension of the College Library in 2007. The brief called for storage space for books and archives, reader spaces, offices and support spaces, as well as improved environmental conditions for books, archives and readers.

The project also presented an opportunity to ensure that the library can evolve to suit changing learning practices and continue to be a vital educational facility for the College for future decades. The proposals included the restoration of the Edwardian Stokes building, the ‘wrapping’ of the 1970’s concrete frame with a skin accommodating individual reading carrels, the addition of a new floor on top of the existing frame and an extension to the south of the original library.

The ‘wrapping’ to the 1970s frame is lightweight and constructed of timber with sheep’s wool insulation. The building is clad externally with untreated sweet chestnut, chosen partly for its natural weathering characteristics and partly for its green credentials. The individuality of each reading carrel is emphasised by etched coloured glass panels at each desk window, with a colour scheme that tracks across the façade of the building - somewhat reminiscent of decorated book spines. Internally, the timber theme is continued in the oak joinery used for panelling, desks, doors and other furniture.

The building is naturally ventilated and workspaces provided with good natural light. Air-conditioning for the rare books collections was decided against and conditions in these rooms were stabilised by the addition of the ‘atrium’ extension to the south, an environmental buffer. The new library has significantly improved the educational facility by the provision of a variety of working spaces with distinctly different characteristics (the formal large reading room, the open airy ‘room on the roof’ with much natural light and views out across gardens, and the private reading carrels close to the bookstacks).

It has also served to link the archives and the historic collections to the main reception area enabling current students to work in a contemporary way while increasing awareness of valuable historic resources. The project was completed in 2012 on programme and within budget.

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