The Horner-Markwick Library

A competition winning design for Newnham College, the Horner-Markwick Library is a new building to accommodate a collection of over 85,000 books and associated study spaces, with 20% room for expansion. The library also contains an archive housing the College’s unique collection, which includes medieval manuscripts and papers from the Bloomsbury Group, and the Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies. Ancillary accommodation includes display spaces, IT room, a group study centre, staff space and a reserve collection stored in a closed stack system.

The new library is a focal point at the heart of the College, whose main buildings were designed by Basil Champneys between 1873 and 1913, informally arranged around extensive gardens. In scale and material, the new architecture reflects the existing character of the College with banded brickwork and steeply pitched roofs. Connections are made to both the Katharine Stephen Room (1982), for rare books and the Grade II* Listed Yates-Thompson Library (1897), which was fully refurbished, including improved environmental controls, ventilation and lighting. The new library building also links into the College’s corridor circulation, and opens into the remodelled Herb Garden. As with the existing library, the new building makes extensive use of natural light by creating twin barrel vaulted atrium spaces extending over three floors, around which all book stacks are arranged.

The new library is designed to perform to low energy criteria, with a super-insulated building envelope of airtight construction, and low-pressure mechanical ventilation (including night ventilation and heat recovery) used in conjunction with exposed building mass.

The archive was designed to meet the exacting standards of BS 5454. Working closely with Fulcrum Consulting as Building Services Engineer, our approach to was primarily to locate the archive in the heart of the building, in the basement, and therefore well insulated from external heat gain. The conservation strategy for archival material was to use night ventilation and thermal mass to even out temperature swings. This enables the internal temperatures to stay evenly at a slightly higher levels than standard, rather than a more typical approach where aggressive cooling kicks in now and then, to keep temperature and humidity at very low pre-set levels.

Internal finishes are in keeping with the richness of existing Arts and Crafts detailing, comprising limestone floors in circulation areas, carpet in quiet areas, glass floors in gallery spaces, plastered walls or exposed facing bricks, with bespoke white precast concrete coffers with integrated lighting, and expressed structural steel frame as a recurring motif. All fixtures and fittings are purpose designed in white oak and stainless steel, including bookcases, study tables and fixed seating.

As well as gaining a Commendation from the Civic Trust Awards, Newnham Library received the 2004 David Urwin Award, celebrating the design of new and extended or altered buildings in Cambridge.


Client: The Fellows & Principal of Newnham College

Architect: John Miller + Partners


  • Structural Engineer: Campbell Reith
  • Services Engineer: Fulcrum Consulting
  • Cost Consultant: Daniel Connal Partnership

Contractor: Bluestone

Status: Completed 2004

Photographer: Dennis Gilbert


  • Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2001
  • David Urwin Design Award 2004
  • Civic Trust Commendation 2005