Bringing libraries back to life

Case Study

Weston library, Oxford

The Bodleian Library in Oxford is one of the most famous and ancient libraries in the world. Within assorted library buildings dating back to the 16th century, it contains some of the UK's most valuable literary treasures. But it's the Thirties', Grade II listed wing (formerly known as the New Bodleian, now the Weston) designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott that is drawing the crowds since Wilkinson Eyre completed its three-year, £80m transformation in March last year.

The Bodleian badly needed to update its storage facilities, which lacked proper climate control and fire protection, but that alone would not have drawn the generous philanthropic donations that funded this entire enterprise. It was the idea of opening up the university's treasures to the public, and creating a genuine gathering space and resource for the city and university that galvanised the fundraising.

Blackwell Hall (named after bookshop owner Julian Blackwell, in thanks for his £5m donation) forms the heart of the Weston, accessed via a new public entrance on Broad Street. It's this new entrance and the work at the core of the building that have transformed the perception and feel of the building.

Wilkinson Eyre replaced a colossal central stack filled with books with a welcoming, top-lit 13.5m-high hall, leading on to a cafe and two public exhibition galleries. Incorporated into the hall's walls is a 15th-century gateway that first stood on this site more than 500 years ago, now on permanent loan from the V&A Museum. The refurbishment makes the whole space more porous and inviting, changing the relationship of the library with the town.

Scott's original book-lined reading rooms have been upgraded: new desks make for easier invigilation thanks to simpler slim lighting, and there is a new range of three-legged Bodleian chairs designed by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby. New facilities include a Digital Media Centre, a Visiting Scholars Centre, a lecture theatre and a suite of seminar rooms, which support contemporary techniques and the more collaborative nature of research.

Inside the Weston Library, formerly the New Bodleian and now with a £80m transformation by Wilkinson Eyre
Inside the Weston Library, formerly the New Bodleian and now with a £80m transformation by Wilkinson Eyre

The upper storeys of Scott's building, previously hidden by a Sixties' extension, have been reinstated and restored with a new reading room, whose windows offer enviable panoramas over Oxford's famous spires. Great care has been taken to restore and match Scott's materials and craftsmanship, from the stone and metal components used to the quality of wood joinery.

Client: Oxford University
Architect: Wilkinson Eyre
Cost: £8m
Completed: March 2015


Case Study

DLR Lexicon Library, Dun Laoghaire

A striking new library has opened in Dun Laoghaire - the most significant piece of public infrastructure in the town for more than 100 years. The competition-winning scheme, from Cork-based architecture practice Carr Cotter & Naessens, envisages the building as a new public space that fulfils a range of requirements, from leisure through education to major cultural events.

With monumental windows rising up towards the harbour and offering spectacular views over the sea, the interior is presented as a 'living room', bathed in daylight and offering a mix of intimate and large public rooms on different floors.

The new library is the first significant piece of public infrastructure in 100 years
The new library is the first significant piece of public infrastructure in 100 years

There are places to congregate or sit quietly and enjoy the 80,000 items available in the adults' library or the region's first dedicated children's library. Visitors can research or browse at 60 computers, or tuck themselves away into 100 study spaces. There is a gallery, plus a floor dedicated to local studies, and a small auditorium.

Views of the sea are maximised. Brick cladding on the southern side reflects the materials of the nearby Victorian high street, while the granite used elsewhere brings a civic grandeur while reflecting the tones of the sea in the foreground and the mountains behind.

A newly created public park expands the civic presence with stepped levels, a terraced water feature and bamboo garden, plus a 'garden room' sheltered by a grove of trees.

Client: Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council
Architect: Carr Cotter & Naessens
Size: 6,520 sq m
Cost: €36.6m
Opened: Spring 2015

Case Study

Thomas's School Library, London

School libraries have rarely been places of respite and comfort; often dark, dusty and chaotic, and crammed with desks, shelves and a thousand dog-eared and graffitied books. Hugh Broughton Architects (HBA) wanted to create a very different atmosphere for Thomas's School London, a family-run private prep school in Clapham; one that nurtures a love of the printed word and storytelling. The design was informed by multiple discussions with teachers and pupils at an early stage.

The client's ambition was to transform the existing facility into a delightful, contemporary, light-filled space that was responsive to both current and future staff and pupils' needs.

Working within the ground floor of the school's Grade II listed Victorian building, HBA painted the walls and vaulted ceiling of the space white, and added modern downlights. A map of Narnia, taken from CS Lewis's children's classic series, is illustrated across the resin floor. Great thought has been given to where, when and how children will engage with books.

Thomas’s school library, london

An alcove with curving steps makes an intimate stage for storytelling, along with oversized circular seats in bright pink and royal blue. The librarian's desk is constructed from 875 books set within a Hi-Macs' frame.

Childheight shelving units encourage pupils to browse while quotes printed above the shelves offer inspiration to seek out and enjoy their contents. Original window reveals now incorporates bookshelves, flanked by an organic seating feature bathed in natural light.

Head teacher Phil Ward says: 'The transformation of what was easily the bleakest and most pessimistic area in our school to one which draws the children towards astonishing. It blends the best of a traditional library with digital technologies and an aura of the magical.'

Client: Thomas's School, London architecture and interiors Hugh Broughton Associates
Area: 155 sq m
Cost: £199, 236
Completed: September 2014


Case Study

Calgary New Central library

Reinvented as a generous, welcoming public space for the people of Calgary, the new library is central to community life and placed right next to City Hall.

This competition-winning scheme, submitted by a team from Scandinavian starchitects at Snøhetta and Calgary's DIALOG, was evolved over two years of conversations with stakeholders, including six months of public engagement events, through which some 16,500 Calgarians shared their ideas and hopes.

Calgary New Central library

The new library is intended to fulfill the city's vision for a 'technologically advanced public space for innovation, research and collaboration', with spaces that are flexible, specialised and community oriented, celebrating both existing analogue/print and expanded digital archives. The building will be 66 per cent larger than the existing facility, created in 1963 and extended in 1974, when the city's population was less than 400,000; it is now over a million.

Snøhetta's inspiration for its undulating topography was apparently the nearby foothills, with its roof arching high to accommodate an existing light-rail transit line. The wood-clad entrance reveals a terraced atrium, from which all aspects of the library's programme will be visible. Circulation is via timber stairs and walkways. Public engagement activities (including educational and training opportunities) take place on the ground and lower levels, while the upper floors are reserved for quieter study. With multiple connections to the surrounding streets, via fritted glass openings, the New Central Library becomes a public plaza that connects pedestrians, commuters, library users and shoppers, literally uniting the people of Calgary around a 21st-century knowledge hub.

Client: Calgary Municipal Land Corporation
Architecture: Snøhetta and DIALOG
Executive architect and landscape architect: DIALOG
Area: 22,000 sq m
Cost: $245m (Canadian)
Completion: 2018

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