Project Description:

For the University of Cambridge, this project expands and re-orders the existing Scott Polar Research Institute, the world's most comprehensive polar Library and Archive, to provide a dedicated home for the Shackleton Memorial Library. In doing this, greatly improved facilities are provided for research workers, together with archive storage compliant with BS 5454, administration and post-graduate study spaces.

The Grade II Listed Founders’ Building (1934), sits on a very restricted site, and is extended to the rear with two and three-storey structures dating from the 1960’s. The entrance building was partly demolished to provide space for the new library and book stack area, which directly links all existing levels including a new basement. The structure is a reinforced concrete frame for the new-build rotunda, with a lightweight steel panel attic being added at second floor level over the existing structure. The whole building has been upgraded to provide DDA compliance, inserting a new lift within an existing stairwell that serves all floors.

The new Memorial Library is organised into a three-storey rotunda structure, placed on axis to the main entrance. The concept of the circular form is to act as foil to the adjacent rectilinear forms, while mediating between the contrasting architectural styles. New and old are further united visually by pairing brick with intermediate stone bands. Internal finishes include oak woodblock floors and plaster walls to match existing materials. Coffered plaster ceilings with integrated lighting are designed to correspond to the module of bookcase stacks, and thus provide even lighting onto shelving.

The project creates a symbolic reuniting of Britain’s two great Antarctic explorers, Scott and Shackleton, within an enlarged Institute that facilitates and promotes Polar Research.

Winner of an RIBA Regional Award in 2000, the Judges commendation reads:

"This is a well-mannered and well-constructed building that adds significantly to the collection of spaces making up the Scott Polar Research Institute. The existing building consisted of a number of densely packed floors with lots of separate spaces. The new rotunda makes sense of all this. Various nicely handled touches have been added to the existing building in the form of ceiling lighting systems and areas of display. The most memorable visual idea in the interior is the glass lift….It has the appearance of a shaft of ice that has plunged down through the building. The colour of the glass surround and the way daylight glows through it, deliberately evokes the painting of ice which has been hung opposite to it.”

Posted 1st June 2012
By Southstudio


Client: University of Cambridge

Architect: John Miller + Partners

Contractor: Haymills

Value: £2M

Professional Team (selected):

  • Client's Representative: EMBS
  • Project Manager: EMBS
  • Structural Engineer: Campbell Reith
  • Services Engineer: Fulcrum Consulting
  • Cost Consultant: Davis Langdon

Status: Completed 2000

Awards: RIBA Regional Award 2000