Concept art for the planned new building

Controversy has hit Magdalene College over proposals for a new library building which students say will have detrimental effects on the College Fellows’ Garden.

The new structure will be constructed parallel to the historic Pepys Building, which houses the current college library, but will not be physically joined to it.

Its construction will require the demolition of a large stretch of greenery which borders the Fellows’ Garden, a move which students have criticised, in addition to its planned appearance and size.

Varsity has seen a discussion among members of Magdalene JCR about graphic designs for the building which have not been disseminated by that committee or by the College to the wider student body.

While some JCR members were broadly positive about the building’s appearance, others complained that it might be “too big” and that it looks “a bit industrial” – a reference to a number of chimneys which are set to adorn the perimeter of the roof.

Varsity understands that, of the nine JCR members who contributed to the discussion, two were content with the building, two were critical and five were ambivalent.

Magdalene students who have been shown the drawings told Varsity that they were not impressed. “It’s hideous,” one said, adding that it was “really disappointing. Magdalene is such a beautiful college. [The new building] is not in keeping with the rest of the college at all”.

Further contention has emerged over the transparency of the committee’s response. One JCR member queried whether it was “undemocratic” for the committee to decide not to oppose the development without broader consultation.

Another member responded that, while it was not “undemocratic per se”, nonetheless the College should not have “got through to a really advanced, almost irreversible stage without the students being shown the plans in any detail, or being asked, apart from a survey a few years ago”.

He suggested that the JCR should “express disgruntlement” at the process, while not “causing a fuss that would be expensive in terms of time, money and goodwill”.

Speaking to Varsity, a spokesperson for Magdalene College defended its development plans, saying that the building would not detract from enjoyment of the Garden, but indeed would “enhance the appreciation of the Fellows’ Garden for members of the College, with working spaces looking out over the Garden and a ground floor gallery and student social space where French doors will open out into the Garden”.

Addressing specifically the loss of green space, the spokesperson commented: “We have taken great care in positioning the building to retain the yew trees that lie to the north of the Pepys Building and to retain the mature trees that lie between the proposed library and Chesterton Road. Although the Library will occupy an area of old orchard we will replace these trees with new apple and pear tres, characteristic varieties native to Cambridgeshire, in a new orchard elsewhere in College.”

The Pepys Library is named after 17th-century statesman and diarist Samuel Pepys, whose collection of manuscripts it has housed since the death of his nephew John Jackson in 1723, upon which it came into the possession of the college.

Magdalene College JCR did not respond to Varsity’s request for comment