University of Bedfordshire

University of Bedfordshire

MCW Architects
Luton, United Kingdom
Project Year

University of Bedfordshire

MCW Architects as Architects

The new library for the University of Bedfordshire is a vital step in the

on-going regeneration of their town centre campus in Luton.

The provision of this new 7,000m2 building minimises the impact of future

phases of redevelopment on the student experience through the relocation

of this core activity to a brand new facility, located at a focal point between

academic space and new residential accommodation. The University has

consulted widely with the students and looked at comparable recent new

library schemes both in the UK and worldwide.

The building reflects the University’s aspiration for an efficient, serious and

scholarly place that supports and enables improvements in academic and

institutional performance.

The brief from the University was significant in that it required a shift away

from the current trend for more informal, fluid, social and group working

space as the norm for an HE library towards a structured and ‘traditional’

environment with books on shelves as the core and a clear gradation of

learning environments, from individual silent study to collaborative training

laboratory space, as well as controlled archive space.

The site, whilst well located, is challenging because of the available

‘footprint’ – resulting in a relatively tall building for a library – with nine

floors. Taking this aspect as an opportunity, the proposed scheme locates

silent study spaces on each of the upper floors as a ‘study wall’ with

excellent views and daylight, fulfilling the increasing demand by students

for more silent working environments.

In summary the new building provides the following accommodation:

entrance/reception; social/café/informal learning zone; training labs and

presentation rooms; group study rooms, open shelving; compact archive

storage and library staff workspaces along with a wide range of individual

study environments. All areas of the building have excellent daylighting

coupled with dramatic views over the town-centre.

MCW have been working with the University of Bedfordshire since 2007.

During this time we have generated comprehensive masterplans for the

University’s two campuses and designed and delivered four significant

buildings totalling £70m; the New Library, the Gateway Building, the

Postgraduate Centre and the Campus Centre. We are currently working on

the new £22m STEM building.


The vision for the scheme was to create a facility that:

——Enhances the reputation of the University of Bedfordshire

——Is adaptable to changing learning and teaching patterns

——Provides an excellent environment for students and staff

——Is emblematic of a centre of learning

——Is inclusive and welcoming to all

——Supports the academic reading strategy

——Is comfortable and easy to use

This brief has subsequently created a strong base uponwhich the design has developed from concept stageto working drawing through to the completion of thislandmark building. It was prepared by the UniversityLibrary team in very close consultation with the studentbody through student surveys and small workinggroups.

Entrance floors

The ground and mezzanine floors work together tocreate a dynamic double height entrance foyer. Anuncluttered open plan space provides immediate visualcontact with clear circulation routes and a continuouslow counter at the far end of the entrance spacecombining three functions -help, security and cateringofferinggood orientation to visitors and frequent usersalike. The route to the security barriers and return to thelifts is a direct journey, long enough to maintain clearcirculation for the numbers expected to be enteringthe library. This also provides opportunities for otheractivities: check availability of resources at the fast ICTdesk, return books, place belongings in lockers, pickup a lapbook or pop into the café area with its strongconnection to the street scene outside.

A pair of lifts and main circulation stair, visible onentering the building, deliver the students directly ontothe open floor and into the heart of the library at each level.

Study support is available for students at themezzanine level which overlooks the main entrancespace and is suspended on stainless steel bars tominimize columns within the ground floor. There isadded security by way of overlooking views from staffareas located in the southern portion of the mezzaninefloor. More sensitive requirement, such as the 1-2-1interview rooms are set apart to provide an added levelof privacy.

Self-service vending machines, primarily for out ofhours use, are also located here so that students donot need to exit the secure library area.

First floor

An important component of the ongoing campusredevelopment has been the creation of upper levelbridge links between adjacent buildings to reinforceconnectivity. A bridge link has been made at first floorlevel that links to the adjacent Business School andCampus Centre. The bridge itself is more than just acirculation route with opportunities for informal seating,exhibition space and a media wall. The bridge is fullyglazed on its north face – a move that is aimed at futureviews to the area that will be the location for long termredevelopment on campus.

Entry into the library here presents students with thesame facilities as provided on the ground floor: bookreturns, lockers, lap-book loans and access to staffhelp by way of a service point backed up by the ReaderServices team. A training lab and collaboration labalong with reserved books are located at the perimeterwith open access PC’s at the centre for individualstudy.

Upper floors

The upper floors are configured to promote easy navigation by locating functions in the same place at each level ensuring a familiar, clear layout plit into three distictive zones:

1. main open plan space

2. study wall

3. service and circulation core

The central zone houses a block of open shelving setunder the coffered concrete ceiling which creates astrong visual focus on the collection. MCW collaboratedwith Bruynzeel to adapt their Jacob Jensen creating anintegral display unit for books and journals as part ofthe shelf ends.

Quiet and silent study areas and group study rooms arefound beyond the books along the southern ‘study wall’edge of the building. The books themselves aid theacoustic and visual separation from more lively areasaround the lift landing and print areas.

A linear roof-light over the transition between thebookstacks and the ‘study wall’ allows light to flooddown through floor voids which run parallel to the‘study wall’ - these voids aid visual connectivitybetween the floors, allowing daylight and the changingexternal environment to be enjoyed deep within the building.

Stairs, lifts, toilets and print nodes are tucked in thenorthern corner to maximise efficiency.

Open plan staff offices are glazed to encourage accessand support good behavior and are also located inthe same location throughout the building alongside adedicated staff lift and stair.

On the top floor a double height corner room servesas a quiet study space but also a meeting and functionroom for hosting events. Fully glazed with triple glazedunits incorporating a fine copper mesh the room is astriking beacon at night, communicating the 24/7 lifewithin the building.


To ensure the new library is viable and meets thestudent needs, a partial basement has been retained tohouse approx. 1,850 linear metres of compact shelving.This also presents the opportunity to house someplant provision to reduce the pressure on the roof plantlayout.

Skin structure and services

The University were keen to create a strong civicgesture within part of the town centre that has sufferedsome neglect over recent years. MCW worked closelywith Thorp to develop the design of a simple, robust language of precast concrete units to clad the in-situ concrete frame.

The vertical units have a pattern of alternating angled faces that ensure good sight lines and provide some shading. The double height entrance space is clearly expressed with taller units and integral benches are recessed at the back of the pavement along Vicarage Street. Cills are also heavily sloped to prevent roostingof pigeons (an ongoing problem for the town centre).

The envelope is sealed for acoustic reasons: the upperfloors enjoy views of the arrivals and departures fromLuton Airport and the adjacent Vicarage Street is a busonly route. A large part of the roof-scape is dedicatedto both internal and external roof plant which feed intoa pair of ‘book-end’ risers for both mechanical andelectrical services, minimising impact on the occupiedfloors below. This plant area is concealed within alouvred screened enclosure, allowing for a BMU cradletrack and the provision of an area of sedum roofing.The roof is generally a ‘blue roof’ – providing additionalattenuation of rainwater.

A PV array is located on a freestanding steel structureabove the chiller units. A combination of displacementventilation fed via raised floor plenums and localizedbanks of chilled beams creates a constant andcomfortable environment – a very important factor forthe library team who had previously occupied a poorlyserviced building. A floor to ceiling, aluminium framedglazing system incorporates insulated flat solid panelsfinished in an anthracite grey across the upper floors.The ground floor has a large-scale timber mullionsystem. All windows have user controlled roller blindsto control any glare. Individual workplaces have neatdimmable LED task lights.

The building has achieved BREEAM Excellent.

Future Proofing

A critical factor in the success of this project is theability of the new facility to support future needs ofthe University in relation to changing curriculum andteaching patterns. The combination of large spanstructure, a modular planning grid and a raised floorthroughout will provide a high level of adaptability.In addition, the envelope along the northern edge ofthe building across the lower three floors has beendesigned to allow for possible full integration with futureexpansion here.

Project team
Project Manager
Planning Consultant
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