Exeter College Library

Tags: education, timber, refurbishment, low carbon, listed building

  • Client: Exeter College, Oxford
  • Architect: Nex—
  • Photography: Will Pryce
  • Completion: 2024
  • Value: £12.3m
  • Expertise: Structures
Exeter College Library - Webb Yates Engineers
Exeter College Library - Webb Yates Engineers
Exeter College Library - Webb Yates Engineers
Exeter College Library - Webb Yates Engineers
Exeter College Library - Webb Yates Engineers

A competition winning design to refurbish the Grade II listed neo-gothic library. The structure was built as a two-storey range with an adjoining lower annexe in an ‘L’ formation, around the college’s Rectors Garden. It sits next to the 17th Century walls of Convocation House, the Grade I listed historic court room of the Bodleian Library, separated only by a sliver of ground between buttresses. 

Key to unlocking the tight spaces of the existing library is a modest single storey block — the Link block. Tucked between the party wall of Convocation House and the two wings of the library, it has undergone many alterations over the past two centuries, with little original fabric remaining. Through occupying this space and the gap between the Bodleian’s buttresses, we have created a new entrance to both wings of the library and new staircase and lift, making the library fully accessible. The new lift shaft will be hidden behind an existing stair turret. A further new entrance and stair at the north end of the annex adds new emergency exits and allows flexible movement through the building. Steel beams, added as reinforcement to the range floor in the 19th Century, are replaced with a new hidden structure, allowing the original ceiling design to be fully revealed. 

The most structurally challenging aspect of the design was the introduction of a new cantilevered mezzanine. Formed of prefabricated spruce panels, the lightweight addition increases the library’s usable floor area while mitigating the need for impactful structural reinforcements or a long construction period. A timber beam spans the mezzanine, not only to form desk space for students but to also play a vital role in the structure. By working in combination with the floor to make a timber c-section, the desk enables the mezzanine to span 14m between the north and south stairs without immediate support.

Renewing one of George Gilbert Scott's most accomplished works at the University of Oxford, this project combines a sensitive programme of restoration with considered improvements to the library’s study spaces and accessibility.