Sir Duncan Rice Library

The Sir Duncan Rice Library is the main academic library for the University of Aberdeen. It was designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects and completed in 2011. It is named after Duncan Rice, a previous Principal of the university. The cube-shaped building can be seen prominently from the entire campus and much of the city. It is a seven-storey tower, clad in zebra-like jagged stripes of white and clear glass. The building has a floorspace of 15,500 square metres. It houses several of the University's historic collections, including more than a quarter of a million ancient and priceless books and manuscripts that have been collected over five centuries since the University's foundation. There is also public exhibition space. The library replaced the smaller Queen Mother Library as the university's main library.

Sir Duncan Rice Library
Front of the library, April 2018
TypeAcademic library
LocationUniversity of Aberdeen
Coordinates57.164984°N 2.105614°W / 57.164984; -2.105614
Items collectedBooks, manuscripts, journals and electronic resources


The Queen Mother Library had been the university's main library since 1965. The university conducted a restricted international design competition for the new library in 2005.[1] The Danish architectural firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen architects were successful.[2] The project was the largest capital fundraising project ever undertaken by the university.[3][4] Plans were unveiled to the public in 2007.[5]

Construction of the new library building started in August 2009.[6] Caithness Stone Industries was awarded the contract to provide stone for the construction.[7] A topping-out ceremony took place in October 2010.[8] The building was completed in September 2011 and was initially known simply as the Aberdeen University New Library.[6][9] On 21 September 2012, the building's name was changed to honour Duncan Rice, who had been Principal of the university 1990–2006, during the time that the project was conceived and the funds were raised.[10] The library was then officially opened by the Queen on 24 September 2012.[11] In the first year there had been 700,000 visitors.[12]


The building sits on a base of Scottish stone.[12][13] The ground floor is double-height with seven floors above. The building is clad in zebra-like jagged stripes of white and clear glass.[12][14] In the interior void spaces are located centrally.[1] Contrasting with the geometric exterior, the central atrium formed by the void spaces has an organic form, shifting in location across the levels.[15]

Across the levels above the ground there are 1,200 reading spaces. Above ground there are 13 km of shelving to hold 400,000 books.[13] The building is rated as BREEAM Excellent.[12] Features that help it achieve this include a system to harvest rainwater to use for flushing toilets, photovoltaic cells on the roof and programmed timers to control the use of fluorescent lighting.[9][16]

Outside the library, Evolutionary Loop 517, a 6.25-metre bronze sculpture by Nasser Azam, was unveiled on 27 May 2012.[17]

Other university libraries are located in Kings College (Divinity Library), the Taylor Building on the same campus (for law books and materials) and at Foresterhill (for medicine and medical sciences). The university's library service (i.e. including all libraries) holds over one million books.


In 2012 the building was given the Aberdeen Civic Society Award. In 2013 it picked up an RIAS award and was also nominated for the 2013 RIAS Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award.[18] It won a Royal Institute of British Architects National Award in 2013.[19]

In April 2014, the Mother Nature Network included it in a feature about the most beautiful libraries in the world.[20][21]


  1. Dunlop, Alan (8 December 2011). "Library, University of Aberdeen, by Schmidt Hammer Lassen". Architects Journal.
  2. "Sir Duncan Rice Library". Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  3. "Library for Aberdeen". Times Higher Education. 8 June 2007. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  4. "'Exciting and fabulous': Queen opens University of Aberdeen's £57m library". STV News. 24 September 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2016.
  5. "Library of the future is revealed". BBC News. 13 August 2007.
  6. "New £57m University of Aberdeen library opens". BBC News. 12 September 2011.
  7. "Caithness stone for new £57m Aberdeen library". BBC News. 8 April 2010.
  8. "New University of Aberdeen library 'topping out' held". BBC News. 6 October 2010.
  9. Meinhold, Bridgette (10 October 2012). "Schmidt Hammer Lassen's Shimmering & Efficient Aberdeen University New Library Opens in Scotland". Retrieved 1 August 2016.
  10. "Aberdeen, Aberdeen University Campus, Sir Duncan Rice Library". Canmore. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  11. "Queen opens new library at Aberdeen University". BBC News. 24 September 2012.
  12. "Aberdeen's Sir Duncan Rice Library officially opened". 28 September 2012. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  13. Glancey, Jonathan (8 January 2012). "Swirl power: Aberdeen's new £57m university library". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  14. "RIBA National awards: Winners 2013: Scotland: University of Aberdeen Library". Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  15. Lewis, Penny (21 November 2011). "Light reading: Schmidt Hammer Lassen at Aberdeen University". Architecture Today. Archived from the original on 18 August 2016. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  16. Oakman, Hannah (28 February 2014). "Off the books". Retrieved 1 August 2016.
  17. "University celebrates the old and new with 20ft bronze sculpture". STV News. 29 May 2013. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  18. "'Tent' among 12 Scottish architecture award winners". BBC News. 13 June 2013.
  19. Battersby, Matilda (13 June 2013). "RIBA Awards 2013: Educational buildings dominate this year's Stirling prize longest". The Independent.
  20. Breyer, Melissa (30 April 2014). "18 of the most beautiful libraries in the world". Mother Nature Network. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  21. Dingwall, Blair (17 February 2015). "VOTE: Aberdeen University library listed amongst world's finest… Agree or disagree?". The Press and Journal. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
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