As one of Oxford’s oldest and smallest colleges, Corpus Christi is characterised by a spirit of architectural and academic intimacy. Its library is of national architectural and historical significance, however it no longer meets the current needs of students and staff at the university.
Designed to increase the number of study spaces, improve access and safeguard the College’s Special Collections, the remodelling project by Wright & Wright Architects extends and redevelops the library, while respecting the heritage of the site and buildings. Designed using rigorous Passivhaus principles and employing passive methods of environmental control, the scheme is an exemplar of sustainability.
Situated south of Oxford city centre, Corpus Christi College is typical of other Oxford colleges, arranged around a series of interlocking quads. The highly constrained site is bounded on three sides, with the medieval city wall running between Corpus Christi and Christ Church College to the West. To the south, is the green open space of Christ Church Meadow and to the north, the site overlooks Oriel Square. The scheme focuses on the ensemble of buildings around Garden Quad, in particular the Grade II listed Staircase Six Building, which dates from the 50s but has endured multiple unsympathetic alterations over the years.
Wright & Wright’s sensitive proposal carefully unpicks, restores and enhances the existing building fabric, while adding distinctive contemporary elements that take cues from the historic buildings. An ashlar stone facade on Oriel Square will replace an existing garage and flat, which originally formed part of the Master’s Lodgings while a new large glazed opening alludes to the historic notion of the ‘library window’, acting as a new marker for the college, consolidating its civic presence and reframing its relationship with the wider urban realm. The new flat roof will be made of lead and inset with photovoltaic panels and the roof that pitches towards Garden Quad will be clad in slate to match the historic Old Library. Internally, a palette of materials such as oak and brass will be used.
As well as creating more suitable conditions for holding and preserving the college’s valuable archive, the proposal will improve accessibility to the special collection and create a more spatially efficient and experientially uplifting environment for readers and staff. The redevelopment will deliver full disabled access to all parts of the library, including the historic Old Library, and a new arrival point will be created at the current entrance to the Staircase Six Building, providing first floor access for users with mobility needs.
In expanding user provision, the remodelled building will create 35 new reader spaces for Corpus members and six additional spaces within the Special Collections area for researchers. An additional 1,200m of shelving will be added for the storage of manuscripts and early printed books.
Split across three floors, the new Reading Room has been designed to ensure that all of the desks are in the brightest part of the plan, overlooking the Garden Quad. This reduces the need for artificial lighting and provides views out, ensuring that there is no overlooking of neighbouring Christ Church. Each of the floors has a different character and will provide a range of working environments, from individual carrels to larger shared desks to promote group collaboration. Detailed bespoke furniture such as bookcases and readers’ desks and lighting will also enhance the user experience.
At the north end of the plan, circulation is arranged on an axis with the historic Old Library, with views through to the college chapel at the other end. Throughout the scheme, existing elements and conditions are a jumping-off point for reciprocity and transformation, the new emerging out of the old reflecting the evolution of the college.
Wright & Wright was first commissioned in 2019 and the project is anticipated to be completed and open by 2023.