Magdalene College New Library, University of Cambridge

The New Library for Magdalene College, Cambridge, was crowned RIBA Stirling Prize winner in 2022, praised by the judges for its ‘exceptional engagement with environmental design principles’. 

The exterior of Magdalene College New Library. The large red brick building is surrounded by trees in the Fellow's Garden.

Key information


Niall McLaughlin Architects


Magdalene College, University of Cambridge



Year of Completion




The beautiful three-storey building is a purpose-built space inside the college for students to meet, work and find inspiration. It replaced the existing library facilities and contains an archive facility and picture gallery. Working alongside Niall McLaughlin Architects, we provided MEP Engineering and Acoustics for this project.

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. 

We used dynamic modelling to simulate the large, glazed areas and natural ventilation system, ensuring the building would not overheat in hot weather. The lifecycle impact of the building was also carefully considered, with most of the building built in timber and reusable brick and lime mortar. The site is set within the historic Fellows’ Garden, so a sensitive solution was required due to its location next to a number of significant trees and proximity to several listed buildings.

Video for RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist

A passive archive

One of the biggest challenges was controlling the conditions in the library’s archive which we designed as a passive space, not relying on energy intensive climate control systems. Placed in the centre of the ground floor, thermal mass provides temperature stability in the space. The walls and ceiling are made from concrete, and the concrete floor covers an earthen base.

To ensure humidity levels were within an acceptable range for the archive, a mechanical ventilation with heat recovery system and dehumidifier was incorporated into the design.

During the 2022 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, and not exceeding the 21°C required to conserve the archive’s collections. 


more capacity


anticipated lifespan

0.09 W/m2K

archive U-value

Lighting design

We designed the lighting to minimise energy use and provide emphasis and focus on the bookshelves and working plane. Reducing light spill and obtrusive light was also key to reduce impact on the surrounding historic gardens. 

We chose pendants to provide a decorative feature that catch the sunlight as well as offering a source of directed light. We worked with the lighting manufacturer to get exactly the right optics and light sources to create a uniform level of lighting from a minimum number of pendants and downlights. Bookshelf-mounted lighting was used to illuminate the bookshelves around the perimeter of the spaces, helping define the area and make it easy to navigate around. Task lights with simple switch controls allowed us to provide higher light levels on the desks when needed. 

External lighting was kept to a functional minimum; lighting just the path, entrance and the facade along the terrace to aid orientation and navigation while allowing the new building interior to remain the centre of attention. The facade uplighting is to be switched off after curfew to minimise light pollution.

Exterior of the college against a deep blue sky The college in the evening. Warm lights light up the glazing an outdoor paths

Natural ventilation

The New Library is naturally ventilated by 11 brick chimneys, which rise above the roofline to exhaust warm air from the library interior. Fresh air is drawn in through ventilation flaps by the window seats. Side windows can be opened by students and staff, maintain the connection with outside, while roof lights at the top of the chimneys open automatically depending on CO2 levels in the winter and temperature in the summer.

Acoustic design

We used acoustic absorption behind the bespoke slatted timber to provide reverberation control which fits seamlessly with the overall architectural vision of the brick and timber building, balancing echo and softness to create the optimum atmosphere for study. 

To avoid excess noise from footfall on the timber floor, the surface is built on natural rubber isolators, providing excellent impact noise control and a robust feel to the walking surface. Detailed noise modelling showed that rooms would have noise levels that are appropriate for peaceful study, despite the main road to the north.

Group of workers busy at work on a big wooden table

Construction workers in high vis lay timber flooring in the library

"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
2022 RIBA Stirling Prize
2022 RIBA National Award
2022 Cambridge Design & Construction Awards Best New Building over £2m