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MICA Architects completes underground library at The Queen’s College, Oxford

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MICA Architects, the practice formerly known as Rick Mather Architects, has designed 800m² of underground archiving, reading rooms and study areas adjacent to the 17th-century library at The Queen’s College, Oxford

The underground library is hidden beneath a new green, with a discreet line of rooflights set into the slope of a ha-ha. The new addition doubles the existing library in size, while retaining the historical exterior of the original building and offering spectacular views of the west façade of the original library from the new spaces below.

The queen's college, oxford mica 11

The queen’s college, oxford mica 11

Source: MICA

The project was restarted in 2014 after being on hold for six years, with the architects taking on and completing the conservation and landscape architecture elements of the project, both new in-house skills at MICA.

The design demonstrates a merging of 21st century technologies with traditional craft, creating crisp, new interiors while conserving the historic spaces. Large-format, frameless glass has been combined with oak shelving and fittings to create a bright and open underground space.

The queen's college, oxford mica 15

The queen’s college, oxford mica 15

Source: MICA Architects

The new library makes use of its position in the ground, using new environmental technologies for temperature regulation. Fifty-metre deep piles transfer thermal energy from below the building to new heat transfer coils in the plant room. This technology works in both heating and cooling the building using the thermal stability of deep ground temperature.

Basement plan

Basement plan

Source: MICA Architects

Basement plan

Architect’s view

The project involved detailed client consultations with the college’s fellows, staff and students, resulting in a detailed brief including sizes of books, requirements for users and artefacts. We measured the libraries 3km-long collection eight times to get it right and to adjust to the changing collection.

All design disciplines worked closely together to provide a tightly knit framework of structure for maximising the footprint and use of the new building. Mechanical ventilation systems weave through the structure, providing constant climate within the space for both books and for users with good temperatures and maximised natural light. Details were crucial and were developed, worked and reworked to provide a crisp finish and a neat solution combining joinery, air supply and lighting.

The project was on site for approximately two years, with an archaeological dig followed by construction of the new build, linking it with the existing building, parts of which were refurbished. MICA architects acted as design Llead, contract administrator, conservation architect, landscape architect and project manager. We recognised this is rare opportunity to do all roles, although with this project it also helped in providing a holistic approach for a complex project.

Mandy Franz, project architect, MICA architects



Source: MICA Architects


Project Data

Start on site March 2015
Completion 2017
Gross internal floor area 2687m²
Form of contract JCT Standard Building Contract with Quantities 2011
Total cost Undisclosed
Client The Queen’s College, Oxford
Architect MICA/Rick Mather Architects
Landscape architect MICA/RMA and Jeremy Rye
Structural engineer Dewhurst Macfarlane & Partners and Eckersley O Callaghan
M&E consultant Atelier Ten
Approved building inspector Oxford Building Control
Quantity surveyor PSP Construction Consultants
Planning supervisor JPPC
Lighting consultant Atelier Ten
Main contractor Beard

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