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Nex wins contest to revamp Exeter College Oxford library

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Nex has defeated Carmody Groarke among others to design a major revamp of the Grade II-listed library at Exeter College, Oxford

The other finalists in the invited competition were Gort Scott, Coffey Architects, restoration specialist Jonathan Tuckey Design, and Lee/Fitzgerald. 

The project will restore and upgrade the 1850s Neogothic library building, designed by George Gilbert Scott and used by generations of Exeter College students, among them the author JRR Tolkien.

College rector Rick Trainor said: ‘This is such a vital project for the college; it was essential for us to identify the best team who most connected with the challenge. We were very fortunate to attract a stellar shortlist and we have enjoyed meeting and getting to know each of the finalist teams over the past weeks.

‘Ultimately, however, Nex won us over with a combination of talent, insight and rigour, and we look forward to working with them as we repair, restore and renew the library for future generations. On behalf of the college, I would like to thank all the shortlisted teams, each of whom gave it their all.’

The contest was organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC), whose chair Malcolm Reading said: ‘Nex rose to the challenges of this intricate project with great aplomb. They connected deeply with the college’s ethos and the unique character of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s wonderful library.

‘The winner’s approach was elegant and imaginative while remaining firmly rooted in reality. This combination of flair and pragmatism resonated strongly with the College’s Selection Committee, who reached a unanimous decision to select Nex.’

Nex director Alan Dempsey said: ‘There are some projects that have an extra-special aura, and this was one we absolutely loved. We are so thrilled to win, and to take care of this building and refresh it for the next fifty to a hundred years is a great privilege.’

MRC completed a feasibility study for the project, which recommended 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’.

Finalists in the library contest participated in a series of ‘dialogue and exchange’ events with the college before preparing their final submission.

Nex will work with the college to achieve planning in 2020 and the project is expected to start on site shortly thereafter.

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.

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