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Carmody Groarke and Nex vying for Oxford college library job

The Grade II-listed library at Exeter College, Oxford
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Nex and Carmody Groarke are among six teams shortlisted for a major revamp of the Grade II-listed library at Exeter College, Oxford

Gort Scott, Coffey Architects, restoration specialist Jonathan Tuckey Design, and Lee/Fitzgerald are also finalists in a competition organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC) to find an architect for the prestigious commission.

The project will restore and upgrade the 1850s Neo-Gothic library building, designed by George Gilbert Scott and used by generations of Exeter College students, among them JRR Tolkein.

College rector Rick Trainor said: ‘The library is integral to the life of the college and its collections and reader spaces are extensively used. We know that renewing it and equipping it for 21st-century users will bring immense joy to the college community.

‘We are grateful to all the competitors for the effort and imagination they put into their stage one submissions. We hugely look forward to our meetings and interactions with the finalists, and discovering the team that deeply connects with the project.’

MRC chair Malcolm Reading said: ‘This is a complex architectural challenge, which drew a very strong response. In making their submissions, the finalists excelled in their understanding of the project: the need to restore the fabric and maintain the individual charm of Scott’s superb gem, whilst creating a new place of study and learning fit for new generations.

‘This competitive process involves direct engagement between the client and each firm at their respective offices, exploring their working culture and overall approach to projects as part of the decision to select a winner.’

Exeter college interior 1

Exeter college interior 1

MRC has already completed a feasibility study for the project, which recommends repairs to the structure’s historic fabric, services upgrades, and a ‘sensitive and holistic’ rethink of internal spaces to boost ‘user comfort, accessibility, connectivity and sustainability’.

The contest comes more than seven years after Alison Brooks Architects won an earlier MRC competition for Exeter’s new Cohen Quad, which completed last year.

Teams shortlisted in the library contest will now participate in a series of ‘dialogue and exchange’ events with the college before preparing their final submission. An overall winner will be announced in late spring.

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