Corpus Christi - Looking at the new library facade


Corpus Christi College gets the green light for new library extension

Published: 13 December 2020


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Corpus Christi - looking onto Oriel Square

Working with Wright & Wright Architects, Oxford’s Corpus Christi College has been granted planning permission to expand and remodel a Special Collections Centre and Library, providing new archival and study spaces for one of the finest library collections in Oxford.

The college, founded in 1517 by Bishop Richard Foxe of Winchester, was founded as a centre for humanist learning and benefits from a library much admired by Dutch Renaissance philosopher Erasmus. Its 16th century ‘Old Library’ will now be complemented by an extension that transforms the 1950s Grade II listed Staircase 6 building, which in turn looks out to the north over Oriel Square.

The project will be built to Passivhaus rules, a voluntary standard for energy efficiency that reduces the ecological footprint of a building by using very little energy.

The existing building is on the site of the former President’s Lodgings, and now comprises a flat and a garage. This will be demolished and replaced by a sweeping, vertical ‘library window’ and ashlar stone façade, ‘ashlar’ a masonry term for finely worked stone. A new flat roof will be inset with photovoltaic panels while the pitched, public-facing edge will be clad in slate to match the existing Old Library. A new lift will provide direct access for readers with mobility needs, cleverly allowing them into the Old Library as well.

Over three floors, the new Reading Room places desks at the brightest side of the extension, overlooking the Garden Quad. Each floor will have a different character, engaging students and scholars alike with individual carrels but also larger, shared desks promoting communal and collaborative user experiences.

The capacity of the current car park will be deliberately reduced and arranged around electric charging points, reflecting the adjacent zero-emission zone being planned by the City Council and broader societal changes concerning transportation modes in city centres.  A new, small garden will also be planted in this area, adjacent to the Library, further improving its aspect to Oriel Square. 

Clare Wright, Founding Partner at Wright & Wright, has recently completed new library projects at both Magdalen and St John’s colleges in Oxford. She says, ‘We look at what materials can do and we also embrace a culture of craft and making.’


Corpus Christi - looking through the Old Library

There will be bespoke solutions in the form of 1,200 metres of new shelving, among other innovations on the Corpus site, but perhaps the greatest outward impact will lie in how the new façade and planting will transform this recessed corner of Oriel Square, for centuries one of the great public spaces in the city.

Nicholas Melhuish, Corpus Bursar, adds that receiving planning permission was an exciting moment for the college. Long an aspiration, the new scheme will be built beginning in 2021 and is anticipated to open in 2023.

Corpus Christi College, Oxford:

Corpus Christi College was founded in 1517 by Bishop Richard Foxe of Winchester. With a strong academic tradition, it remains the smallest of the medieval Oxford foundations and currently consists of approximately 40 academic and other Fellows, 260 undergraduate and 100 graduate students.

The architects for the project are: