Home for heroines
The Heritage Lottery Fund has made what may well be one of its last substantial grants for a new building to construct the National Library of Women in Aldgate East, London. The hlf's grant of £4.2 million will go to a new £8.65 million building on the site of an old wash-house and will house the Fawcett Library, the most comprehensive collection of publications and artefacts to trace the developing role of women in society. The collection is currently in a cramped basement at London Guildhall University.
Architect Wright & Wright has retained one wall of the wash-house and designed a building behind it which starts from the principle that the most publicly accessible areas should be at the bottom of the building. The need to provide a thermally stable environment for the collection, coupled with the desire of the architect and engineer Ove Arup and Partners to maximise use of natural ventilation, has led to a requirement for a heavy structure. The solution uses two large cores with large concrete beams spanning between them containing the third-floor archive. The second floor is suspended and cantilevered from these beams.
Whereas security considerations restrict access to the archive, the policy is to make the lower areas as open as possible. A seminar room on the ground floor will have a children's area on its roof, and its external walls will form part of the exhibition space. A shaft the full height of the building will house a collection of suffragette banners.
Natural light will be manipulated carefully. The library and exhibition hall face north to avoid direct sunlight. Top-floor offices are arranged around a tiny south-facing courtyard. The ground floor has generous glazing to a small courtyard which creates a new outdoor space in a part of London where it is sadly lacking. In the library itself there will be small windows giving glimpses of sky and treetops, to create a deliberate sense of isolation.
The cost consultant for the project, which will go out to tender soon, is Davis Langdon and Everest.