Stirling Prize revisited: how the locals rate Alsop's Peckham Library
Local residents and architects give their views of Will Alsop’s Peckham Library as part of the AJ’s revisit to the Stirling Prize-winning building
This month, 13 years after the AJ first visited Peckham Library (AJ 30.03.00), we went back to see if the building lived up to this high praise, met the day-to-day demands of its visitors and adapted to the changing role of the modern library?
Here the local residents and architects give us their views of the library.
Lorraine Williams - founder, Sheer Elegance Pageant
I love it, I love it, I love it. I have rehearsals here every Sunday and really enjoy bringing my ladies here every week. I’m proud to show off the building to the ladies, who are surprised it’s here.
We hold rehearsals for every show here and we even had our photo shot in front of the building last week. The [actual] library is like any other library, I’m not complaining, and they keep it nice and clean.
Ken Taylor, Quay2c Architects and peckham resident
As a funky bright icon that has grown on the locals, the Library has been a catalyst and an important one. This success has to be put down to Fred Manson’s Southwark having belief in the Architect and a belief in public buildings to enhance people’s lives. The idea of looking out north over the city to ascend to the quiet space of the Library is a real delight.
However, to the south the covered area’s aspect is very poor feels more like a corridor space rather than a place “to be”. The attempt of the area to become a “square” is not enhanced at all by the orientation and “object / icon” status of the library.
Mrs Simpson - local resident, retired
I’ve lived here 35 years and this building is much better than the one before. That was terrible, and of course this is much nicer. I use it every one or two weeks, mostly to get books. The building is alright - it’s just a library really. I only come here to get books and to pick up my dog bags. They have a good stock of books, but I’ve read all their Clive Cussler novels, so I’m having to move on to other things.
Joe Morris, director, Duggan Morris and peckham resident
The building is garish, curious, certainly one of a kind, but not quite providing the Bilbao effect; a good thing perhaps.
There are many failings however. The public space created at the base is mostly empty, redundant even. Another flaw is the impenetrable nature of the public-facing facade. It is in permanent shadow and gloomy, generally flat in detail, with no real articulation of scale or surface, and lacking a sense of transparency and animation. This acts as a visual deterrent. Not what the form and colour of the building aims for!
That said, and personal taste aside, it does create an undeniable landmark, iconic in many respects, and is head and shoulders (literally) above many other buildings in the vicinity.
Chris Kjolsen - local resident and parent
I began coming here a year ago as I started bringing my daughter to baby groups. I’m from Essex and was just blown away with the selection of books they have. I don’t want to sound too gushing but it’s the best library I’ve ever used. The views out the back are fantastic. I love bringing my daughter up in the lift so she can see the skyline. The computers can be a little slow, but it is a fantastic place.
Charles Barclay, director, Charles Barclay Architects, and peckham resident
The big, green ‘box on wonky legs’ landed like a spaceship amid the run-down terraces and was an immediate hit with the locals: something big, bright and positive had arrived in Peckham (finally!)
Alsop anticipated the changed roles of libraries in the digital age and instead of a fusty depository for books, he created a social space that would attract young readers. This has undoubtedly been a success in an age when libraries are competing with digital media.
There are some conceits that don’t quite work. The pods sit bulbous in the elegant reading room, the wire mesh has become discoloured, while the glazing on the rear elevation has on one occasion suffered from vandalism. These are quibbles, and the enthusiasm the building generates in its users is undimmed.
Eric Ngalle Charles - writer
The first time I came was yesterday, and I’m back today. I should have been coming here for some time now. I live in New Cross and I used to go to the Royal Hall to use the library there, but this is more local and accommodated to my needs. I’m disappointed I haven’t found it before. Nice facilities, very diverse, with information on everything and free Wi-Fi. I’m a writer and I will be back regularly.