The examinations are over, and the work is in! Well done to architecture students throughout the land and particularly to our Unit 10 students on the third year of the undergraduate degree at the Welsh School of Architecture.
This year we have been exploring what a contemporary Public Library is for, asking how they work and what meaningful, productive and/or beautiful architecture, we can derive from their idealistic beginnings. The Unit is run by Josh Wyles of 2A1M Studio and Siobhan O'Keeffe and Ryan Roberts of OR Architecture.
“People have too much knowledge already…. The more education people get the more difficult they are to manage.”
Hostility encountered by William Ewart upon introducing his Public Libraries Bill of 1849
A creation of earnest Victorian liberality, the public library is a relatively new idea; books freely available to borrow for anyone with a library card, rather than the chained libraries of the middle ages or libraries such as the Bodleian which sternly guard against anyone who might seek to remove a book from the premises.
The Round Reading Room at the British Museum, from an illustrated plate in 'Free Public Libraries, their organisation, uses and management' by Thomas Greenwood, Simpkin, Marshall & Co. : London, 1886.
Within the last few decades, public library design has centred around the certainly more generous, though likely restitutive, notion of a ‘public living room’. Students were asked to ground themselves with questions important to the first Victorian public libraries; how can knowledge be made available to all? How can a building be public whilst also keeping the means of this knowledge’s transmission both safe and ordered? And how can this be paid for and procured within frameworks that currently exist?
The library of Alexandria, the Llaurentian Library, the British Library… What qualities of space might the many different technologies of reading imply? What degree of public openness is appropriate and/or desirable? How does a hushed sanctuary compare to the visually permeable, and brightly coloured design of Alsop’s Peckham Library? What is the experience of knowledge gained in a cosy armchair in AOC’s Wellcome reading room compared to that of Louis Kahn’s individual carrels at Philips Exeter Academy Library?
Explorations into these questions and precedents allowed Unit 10 to create a pattern book of ideas to draw from when constructing their own libraries, which were detailed from the scale of a single user’s reading experience – a table with a seat and reading light – through to the building’s face and profile within its context.
The student’s libraries have been sited in the Bristol Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone, one of the UK’s largest regeneration projects and a place set to change beyond recognition over the next 20 years, transforming from a shabby inner industrial suburb into what the promotional material describes as a “series of well-connected and thriving mixed-use communities benefiting new and existing residents, employees and visitors with new homes, jobs, infrastructure and opportunities.”
Students studied this context – physical and cultural, with open minds and a non-judgemental curiosity, considering how the current vision for the area can be developed into a working piece of city at ground level, first through an initial site intervention, then through the careful placement of the public library, skirting and traversing the boundary between outside and inside, public and private.
Students have created designs for libraries that draw the wider city into the Temple Quarter development. This work will be on display at the Welsh School of Architecture Summer Exhibition, launching on the 23rd of June. Please book you tickets via the link below and come and have a look.
There was some outstanding work produced this year and we would like to thank all the students as well as the amazing guest critics who helped along the way. After the exhibition we’ll hopefully be able to post some images!