Magdalene College's New Library wins RIBA Stirling Prize

A large table lined with chairs for study sits in the middle of a light-filled library, lined with bookshelves.

We are delighted to announce that the New Library at Magdalene College Cambridge, which we worked on with Niall McLaughlin Architects, has won the RIBA Stirling Prize; the UK’s most prestigious architecture award.

This beautiful, naturally-ventilated building is the third project we have worked on to win the Stirling Prize, joining the MAXXI with Zaha Hadid Architects in 2010 and Newport Street Gallery with Caruso St John in 2016.

The three-storey building for Magdalene College in Cambridge replaced the college’s previous library facilities and contains an archive facility and picture gallery.

The building form was strongly driven by a desire for natural light, and to provide controlled natural ventilation via louvres and high-level openings in the chimneys. These allow for spaces to be well lit and comfortable without needing additional energy for artificial lighting and fans. The passive archive in the centre of the library is designed not to rely on energy intensive climate control systems. Dynamic modelling of the building physics meant the large, glazed areas and natural ventilation system could be simulated to ensure the building would not overheat in hot weather. The lifecycle impact of the building was also carefully considered, with the majority of the building built in timber and reusable brick and lime mortar.

During the recent summer heatwave, the naturally-ventilated building remained comfortable for its users (peaking at 25°C on the ground floor, in comparison to the 40°C outside) and the passive archive maintained a stable temperature throughout.

The RIBA judges praised the project for its exceptional engagement with environmental design principles, overarching commitment to build something that will stand the test of time, and for the well-designed environments that hugely improve student success and wellbeing.

Working alongside Niall McLaughlin Architects, we provided M&E Engineering and Acoustics for this project.

We'd also like to share our congratulations (and commiserations) with all other shortlisted architectural practices and collaborators, in particular mae architects who we worked with on Sands End Arts and Community Centre. If only there could have been two winners!

"We're incredibly proud that the New Library for Magdalene College has been recognised as winner of the RIBA Stirling Prize. It's an exceptional example of environmentally conscious design, with natural ventilation and excellent daylight providing a lovely space for the students.

It's been a wonderful opportunity to be part of the team in shaping and delivering such a fantastic building. The prize is a testament to Magdalene College's vision and Niall McLaughlin's talents, and I'm delighted to have contributed.

It's a great example of a building being designed to last. The library makes use of natural ventilation and good daylighting to create a comfortable space without the need for energy intensive air conditioning. In the recent hot weather, the building performed really well, keeping the internal temperature down at 31°C on the top floor and 25°C on the lower floor despite the 40+ degrees externally. It shows that with good design, passively cooled buildings can work in our changing climate." 

Ben Sellars Director and Partner at Max Fordham

"The design of this library has been strongly influenced by the requirements to passively light  - characterised by the roof lanterns - and naturally ventilate the spaces (characterised by the stack effect ventilation chimneys and openings in the roof). Overall, the project presents exceptional engagement with environmental design principles."

RIBA Stirling Prize judges

“The Magdalene College Library is a work of many hands and many minds. The College created the possibility for success in the way that they initiated and managed the project. The appointment of designers, consultants, builders, and craftsmen was treated with care. Throughout the development process, our team was supported and robustly questioned in our decisions. We knew we were building for a client who was motivated to achieve the best outcome. Our responsibility to the history and future development of this learning community was clear. We were asked to build for the long-term using present resources wisely.

This is the first time a college has won the Stirling Prize. It is good to celebrate the contribution these remarkable communities have made to the development of modern architectural culture in Britain.”

Niall McLaughlin