MRC advises Balliol College, Oxford on Library review

Feasibility study explores options for exemplary study spaces

Balliol College Oxford Old Library CC BY 2 0
Balliol College, Oxford Old Library. Creative Commons 2.0

Balliol College, Oxford is currently considering a new vision for its celebrated library buildings and Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC) is advising on the initiative.

The main College Library comprises the oldest part of the Broad Street site, with the Old Hall, and the Old Library dating from the mid-fifteenth century. The Salvin Tower, which connects the two, is a later 19th century addition. Of major historical and heritage significance (Grade I or II listed), these key elements have been enhanced over the centuries by notable architects including neoclassicist James Wyatt (1746 –1813) and Victorian gothic revivalist Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905). Further incremental improvements were made in more recent years.

Although much-loved and valued for its spirit of place, Balliol’s Library now needs to respond to changing expectations, new ways of working and pressures regarding limited space.

Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC) was delighted to be asked to write a feasibility study that will explore options for exemplary study spaces, ones that are inspirational and sustainable as well as sensitive to the Library’s heritage.

The College’s commission included the provision of additional study spaces for readers and book storage for its ever-expanding collection, conserving and showcasing its heritage buildings, and facilitating access for all the members of its academic and research community.

Dame Helen Ghosh, Master of Balliol College commented:

‘The Library is at the heart of College life, not just as a resource vital to our academic purpose, but also as an important element in supporting the social and individual wellbeing of the College and its members.
‘Working in this space has been a source of inspiration to our academics and students over many centuries. Renewal of the Library and associated spaces for the coming centuries could be hugely energising. The options identified by MRC in its work have offered us a stimulating, imaginative and practical menu of ideas to consider.’

While focused on the strategic architectural content of the study, MRC built and led a small team of experts to cover all aspects of the study, which included a heritage statement, condition and technical review of the Library’s existing spaces, and a pre-construction study.

On behalf of the College, MRC consulted with multiple project stakeholders, including the College’s Library Working Group Committee, students, academic Fellows, and staff members. These discussions identified the main issues with the current Library spaces, and the priorities for improvements and enhancements. The Feasibility Study offers the College a review of the opportunities and options, supported by technical and cost data, enabling them to take a decision on the best outcome.

The College will be reaching a view on the way forward in the coming year.

Image: Tony Hisgett.