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Carefully crafted European oak brings tactile warmth to uplifting new library

Added 03.31.22

Magdalene College Library – Lathams case study

“The Gold Award winner this year, Magdalene College Library, is a tour de force of architectural design and achievement. Experienced sequentially as they lead one through the building, the different spaces and forms of the reading rooms are quite beautiful. The brick, timber and stone have been designed exquisitely with a thorough understanding of their intrinsic qualities. A truly outstanding building.”

Jim Greaves Chair of Buildings Judges, Wood Awards 2021

Winner of both the Gold Award and the Education and Public Sector category of the Wood Awards 2021, Magdalene College Library in Cambridge is a striking example of sympathetic design, beautiful materials and careful craftsmanship.

Built alongside the Grade I listed Pepys Library, it is the first substantial addition to the main site in over 50 years.

The library design is based upon an arrangement of simple brick volumes with timber windows and pitched roofs echoing the gabled architecture of the existing college.

Inside, the building’s structure is clear to see. Glulam beams support cross-laminated timber floor slabs which are supported on load-bearing brick piers. The architect’s intention was for all the key features to appear as an interwoven set of elements.

Cambridge-based bespoke joinery firm Wedd Joinery was commissioned to manufacture all the furniture within the library including bookcases, desks and various other pieces. The specification was for solid timber much to the joinery company’s delight with Magdalene College wanting to build something for the future generation.

Wedd chose to work with Florian machined European Oak on the advice of timber and materials supplier James Latham. The team recommended the product due to its high-quality finish and strong performance.

Lathams’ extensive network and key supplier relationships provided a further advantage, as they were able to fulfil the specification and meet the demand for such a large order (3000 linear metres in total).

“We love working hand in hand with our customers, to help them to find the materials that are the right fit for their projects,” said Adrian Roker at Lathams. “It has been amazing to watch this project come to life, with one of our highest performing products being used to such an exceptional standard.”

In addition to the solid lumber used in the library’s furniture, Lathams also recommended Woodex® Engineered Florian European Oak was also used for its external doors and windows.. This ensured visual and stylistic consistency throughout the space, whilst harnessing engineered timber’s higher thermal performance qualities and moisture and warping resistance, crucial for this type of application.

This highly-specialised work carried out by Piper Joinery, which has a longstanding reputation for combining skill with agility. Brought onto the project by Wedd, they approached the task with their signature precision and attention to detail to achieve a seamless finish.

Simon Lock, Commercial Director, Wedd Joinery said: “We have worked with Latham’s for over 50 years. They will always be one of the companies we go to at the early stage of a project involving solid timber. At the end, it came down to the important balance of service, quality and price.

“I genuinely believe that a solid oak project on this scale is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we are delighted to have been involved in it. The fact that we were part of the team that was recognised so highly for that work really is the icing on the cake.”

Royston Cobb, Managing Director at Piper Joinery adds, “The Magdalene College Library presented the perfect opportunity for our team to showcase their considerable craftsmanship, which can be observed in the finesse of the joinery on the windows and doors. Working alongside some of the best in the design and build sector, as well as with such a high quality material, was a great experience all round and the results speak for themselves.”

Machined Florian Oak is hard-wearing and mechanically resistant, responding well to compression and bending, as well as highly resistant to mould and fungus, it’s perfect for furniture applications.

Suitable for pieces used in busy, public environments which require high-durability, its high-functionality is complemented by its timeless visual appeal. Light tan to biscuit with silver grey figure on quarter-sawn, it possesses a pleasant stratification which mellows and lightens over time.

Exclusive to James Latham, WoodEx® is a versatile, premium quality, engineered hardwood timber product made from either European Oak, Sapele, Redwood or Red Grandis. Combining high performance with aesthetic appeal, WoodEx® is often used for applications such as windows and doors because it provides a better thermal performance than solid wood and is highly stable and resistant to warping, hugely reducing the need for maintenance.

Whilst its appearance is akin to solid timber, it has the advantage that the visual face and two sides are clear of defects making it ideal for joinery projects.

The timber for both the machined European Oak and Woodex® Engineered Florian European Oak used was provided by Italian-headquartered hardwood sawmilling and wood product manufacturer Florian. The family-owned group has operations across Italy, France, Croatia and Hungary and supplies customers in 78 countries.

Florian’s sales to the UK are worth approximately Euro 20m, and nearly half of that is sold through Lathams. For the Magdelene College Library project, Lathams supplied over £300,000 of Florian machined European Oak and Woodex® Engineered Florian European Oak.

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