The Bartlett School of Architecture


Bartlett Tutor Níall McLaughlin Wins the 2022 RIBA Stirling Prize

14 October 2022

The prestigious prize was awarded to Níall McLaughlin Architects for The New Library at Cambridge’s Magdalene College.

Image: Magdalene College Library, Niall McLaughlin Architects - photo by Nick Kane

The RIBA Stirling Prize is the highest award in British architecture, given annually to RIBA Chartered Architects and International Fellows for new buildings in the UK which have made the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture. The shortlisted buildings emerge from the RIBA Awards, which identify outstanding regional winners. Developed in 1996 from its predecessor, The Building of the Year Award, the RIBA Stirling Prize is named after late architectural pioneer James Stirling, and is now in its 26th year.

Níall McLaughlin Architects take the prize for the first time, after being shortlisted three times previously. They were presented with the award at a ceremony in London on Thursday 13 October. Their design for The New Library extends the function of the adjacent Grade 1 listed Pepys Library, dating from the 17th century. The original building has archived Samuel Pepys’ collection for three hundred years, to the strict specifications outlined in the writer’s dying wishes, but left inadequate room for modern day study. The new building provides a wealth of study spaces for Magdalene College’s students, as well as a climate-controlled archive and an art gallery.

Its gabled roofs, red brick structure and chimneys, wood interior and windows with tracery pay homage to the 700 year old college’s inner and outer architecture, while the building meets modern sustainability standards with its engineered timber structure minimising the embodied carbon in its construction, and its energy use curtailed by passive ventilation and an emphasis on natural light.

The project began construction in 2018 and was completed in January 2021.

The New Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge

The library is a suite of interconnecting rooms lined with bookcases, reading desks and galleries. The spaces are single height, double height and triple height, rising to a long elevated gallery overlooking the lawn and the water. The larger spaces are flanked by smaller niches and rooms with glimpses connecting them together. The vistas along the length of the spaces frame views out over the quadrangles and towards the town. The façade towards the more private Master’s Garden provides indirect light but no views. The facade looking towards the river contains projecting bay windows overlooking the water.

The interior spaces are made from a cross-laminated timber structure with hardwood shelves and tables. The intention is for all of the key features to be perceived as an interwoven set of elements. Roof lights, columns, shelves, light baffles, windows, desks and balustrades forming a coherent warp and weft throughout the space. The roof contains a subtle layer of light structures giving an even level of luminosity to the main reading rooms and balancing out sidelight and top light, thus reducing glare. The arrangement of baffles allows very little direct light to penetrate in to floor or shelf level but allows a lively play of light in the ceiling and window reveals.

This year’s jury comprised:

  • RIBA President, Simon Allford (Chair)
  • Glenn Howells, Founder of Glenn Howells Architects
  • Kirsten Lees, Managing Partner at Grimshaw 
  • Chris Ofili, Internationally acclaimed artist 
  • Smith Mordak Director of Sustainability and Physics at Buro Happold 

Commenting on The New Library, Simon Allford said:

A unique setting with a clear purpose – The New Library at Magdalene College is sophisticated, generous, architecture that has been built to last. Creating a new building that will last at least 400 years is a significant challenge, but one that Níall McLaughlin Architects has risen to with the utmost skill, care and responsibility. 

Well-designed environments hugely improve student success and wellbeing. They should be the rule for all students and teachers in all places of learning, not the exception.”

Níall responded to the award:

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."

Níall McLaughlin is Professor of Architectural Practice at The Bartlett School of Architecture, and is a design tutor within unit UG12 for Architecture BSc (ARB/RIBA Part 1). He launched his own practice, Níall McLaughlin Architects, in 1990, and won Young British Architect of the Year in 1998. The practice was previously shortlisted for the prize in 2013 for the Bishop Edward King Chapel at Ripon College, Cuddesdon; in 2015 for the Darbishire Place housing in Whitechapel, London; and in 2018 for The Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre at Worcester College, Oxford.

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Images: Magdalene College Library, Níall McLaughlin Architects - photos by Nick Kane