NEWS: Coffey Architects receive planning permission for City, University of London Library

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Coffey Architects has won approval to add a well-lit, elliptical, roof-top reading room to a university library in central London.

Islington Council has granted planning permission for the extension and refurbishment of the library for City, University of London, with the scheme set to begin on site this summer and expected to complete by winter 2020.

The university desired an ambitious and world-class architectural solution for the Northampton Square site. Their brief includes working with the original 1970s building, designed by Richard Sheppard, Robson & Partners (now known as Sheppard Robson). The project also targets a BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ rating, and time on site will be limited so as not to disrupt students, staff and local residents.

In response, Coffey Architects has designed a major extension to float above the existing building parapet and to be an expressive addition which celebrates the library function and university’s status as a global institution. This enabled proposed plant equipment to be concealed beneath the new space and remove the existing, unsightly rooftop structures visible from the surrounding townscape.

The new, elliptical-shaped seventh floor will serve as an open, light-filled and column-free reading room achieving spans of 45m x 17m, and features a central rooflight integrated into the crafted, geometric timber ceiling. The elliptical plan, which takes inspiration from the oval Northampton Square gardens adjacent the proposals, looks to engender a sense of student community and works to soften the existing building.

In addition to providing solar-shading, the deep, glulaminated timber diagrid façade has been designed to offer a sense of enclosure internally while enabling unobstructed panoramic views of the Barbican and City skylines to the south and Islington to the north. The glulam solution was proposed by the architect due to its light-weight, sustainability and prefabrication benefits, and draws on the materiality of the impressive, mature trees within the Northampton Square gardens, the canopies of which the new reading room will enjoy views.

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The proposals are sited next to the Northampton Square Conservation Area, several listed buildings and below a protected viewing corridor from Alexandra Palace to St Paul’s Cathedral. The setting of the extension within the sensitive heritage context led the architect to carry out extensive townscape analysis to assess the proposals throughout the initial design stages.

The project also presents a much-needed opportunity for the university to upgrade some of its existing space to provide the adaptability required of a changing education and workplace environment. The strip-out and refurbishment works proposed for the existing sixth floor will reconfigure the existing space to accommodate extra student study areas, staff offices and associated facilities within the existing external envelope and will upgrade the services provisions.

Director Phil Coffey said: “This is a uniquely expressive project, which will give the university and its students a study space they deserve. Whilst bold the proposals are sensitive to the immediate context with a focus on bringing in light, geometry and a warm materiality. We’re thrilled that Islington Council has granted planning permission and thank the Islington Design Review Panel for a rigorous and enjoyable process.”

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Coffey Architects were appointed to the project following an OJEU competition in 2018. This is one of the practice’s first projects in the higher education sector. They are also designing a new technology and innovation hub for Norwich City College.

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