08 Feb 21

St Mary’s Calne Library Completes

The Woods Bagot London Studio has put the finishing touches on a beautiful new library at the heart of the St Mary’s Calne School campus in Wiltshire, UK. Hoping to open its doors later this year, the library will act as a hub of inspiration and learning, with a striking design that incorporates the adjacent apple orchard and surrounding century-old buildings.

St Mary’s Calne is a leading independent boarding and day school for girls (aged 11-18), founded in 1873. The school appointed Woods Bagot in 2017 to design a two-storey library facility that would reposition the library as the centre of the school’s academic and social life. Following a collaborative design process that included the headmistress, staff, librarians, and students, the practice has delivered an environment which doesn’t just reflect best practice teaching & learning, but prepares students for the independence of their future academic lives to come.

Debby Ray, Principal and Project Lead from Woods Bagot, comments: “We are over the moon to see this project come to life and cannot wait to hear how the students react to and engage with the space once they are back at school.

“This has certainly been a one-of-a-kind experience and we’ve enjoyed working so closely with not just the St Mary’s Calne School leadership team, but the students as well, to create a space that wholly reflects a passion for teaching and learning. We hope that this will be a hub for knowledge for generations to come!”  

Dr Felicia Kirk, Headmistress at St Mary’s Calne School, comments: “We have worked hard, with the huge generosity of our donors, to create a space that will motivate the girls and give them the scope to spend time thinking about what they want to learn about, and then to access and use information wisely. We want our new facilities to allow and encourage them to piece together their own world views and opinions at this most formative time of their lives.

“Learning should also be a life-long process, but it is so important that it starts at school. I suspect that many people never embark on the journey if that does not happen. Our girls are tremendously fortunate to be able to be doing so in such a fantastic new space.”

With the UK currently in lockdown, the school hopes to re-open its doors to pupils in Spring 2021.

Design Details

From the western side along the main road that runs through the school, this 660-square-meter structure appears as a simple, rectangular pavilion clad in brick and topped with an articulated roof of timber and glass. Upon entering, however, visitors are welcomed by dynamic interiors, with each storey having a distinct purpose and specified zones. While the ground floor is meant to be lively, aimed at group projects with direct access to the neighbouring orchard, the upper level is designed for more formal focused, individual studying.

Brick ‘bookends’ or separate ancillary forms along the northern and southern areas of the building’s perimeter, provide storage, stair access, small project rooms, and warehouse control systems. To optimise the spaces available for learning and reading, conventional book racks are dismissed instead there are study booths, display zones, and shelving within the interior walls.

The glazed façade faces northeast to limit direct sunlight while illuminating the newly formed passage from the library to the gardens and orchard. Taking direct inspiration from the fruit trees, several structural support beams connect to the undulating interior-side of the roof to give the impression of a tree’s branches. Clerestory glazing enables the appearance of a floating roof and double height curtain walls fill the spaces with daylight from the top. A metal detail is integrated throughout the façade to continue the vertical elements of the trees.

The scale and detail of the building is in line with the architecture of the entire school in its elevations but is deliberately contemporary in its composition. The outcome is a completion of the western edge of the grounds’ central greenspace and an academic haven for its students.

Taking direct inspiration from the fruit trees, several structural support beams connect to the undulating interior-side of the roof to give the impression of a tree’s branches (Photography by Will Pryce)