St John's College Library and Study Centre, University of Oxford

The new Library and Study Centre at St John’s College, Oxford, is focused on promoting energy efficiency in the most elegant manner. 

A stone wall building with blue sky on the back

Key information


Wright & Wright Architects


St John's College, University of Oxford



Year of Completion




The new building, which adjoins the existing 16th-century library, located within the Grade I-listed Quadrangle, provides three levels of library and study space, a 50-person seminar room, a secure, climate-controlled archive for the college’s Special Collections, a new reception area and an exhibition space. We provided MEP, lighting and acoustics design services for the project.

The building is predominantly naturally ventilated throughout. Extensive thermal modelling allowed the correct glazing specification to be applied to each area, allowing for the architect’s vision of fully glazed roofs in the main reading areas without sacrificing the internal thermal or visual comfort.

The large expanse of the Great Lawn allowed for the installation of thirty 55m-deep boreholes to provide both heating and cooling. A detailed thermal analysis was undertaken to ensure that the boreholes would not adversely affect the ground temperature and grass of the Great Lawn, either in the immediate or distant future. Heating in most areas is via underfloor heating, with radiators or trench heaters installed in areas with larger heat losses to allow a lower and more efficient water temperature to be used

PV panels have been installed in all possible roof areas, carefully placed to not detract from the building form, when viewed from ground level. Controls have been centralised at the reception desk touchscreen panel to allow the librarian to effectively shut down upper floors when they are not in use, to avoid unnecessarily heating or lighting these areas.

Modelling reflections

A pool stretching along the west façade reflects light up onto the carvings across the irregular grid of the stone wall that forms the west side of the Study Centre and was created by artist Susanna Heron. In order to mimic this natural play of light that only appears under certain conditions, we developed a pioneering 3D modelling technique in-house to accurately predict the caustic reflection and refraction patterns of both sunlight hitting the surface of the pool and the submerged artificial lighting we were designing. 

The artwork in the multi-functional foyer space is day-lit with roof lights and glazed end-walls, with the roof lights providing the perfect raking light from the sun and sky. The artificial lighting causes a perfect balance between raking and fill light, highlighting the varying depth of the stone carving by providing shadow while allowing occupants to experience every detail and subtle colour variation in the material itself.

“The Library & Study Centre will be an inspiring space for students and scholars now and for centuries to come – a place to think, read, reflect and write, and to enjoy."

Prof. Maggie Snowling CBE President, St John’s College
2022 CIBSE Building Performance Awards Project of the Year
2021 RIBA National Award
2021 RIBA South Award