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Weston Library named AJ100 Building of the Year

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WilkinsonEyre’s Weston Library in Oxford has been crowned the AJ100 Building of the Year

JUDGES’ COMMENTS • SEE THE FULL SHORTLIST

‘This is an unexpected project for Wilkinson Eyre,’ was one of the comments during the judging of the AJ100 Building of the Year Award.

Deciding which scheme should win was difficult, but it was this unexpectedness as well as the quality of detailing that led judges to choose the Weston Library at Oxford University.

WilkinsonEyre is famous for its two Stirling Prize-winning schemes, the Magna Centre and the Millennium Bridge, and there was clearly surprise that this reworking of Giles Gilbert Scott’s Grade II-listed New Bodleian library was by the same practice.

But the firm has slaved over this project for 10 years and it is clearly evident it has been a labour of love.

The £80 million reworking has transformed what was a fusty old building, no longer fit for purpose, into a modern and light space which safeguards the library’s vast collection for future generations.

Removal of the stack structure has allowed WilkinsonEyre to create a grand new entrance hall

The building was effectively an accident waiting to happen. Voids in Scott’s original 11-storey steel-stack structure meant it was a single fire compartment and there was a huge risk of the library’s precious book collection going up in flames. Now the vast majority of books have been moved to a storage facility in Swindon with just a small number of special volumes retained.

This removal of the stack has allowed WilkinsonEyre to create a grand new entrance hall – a 13.5m-tall space that acts as a showcase for the books lining the glazed space that wraps around its interior walls. Where once there were doors giving access to the stack, now windows punctuate the walls offering a view into the newly created spaces.

The building’s main entrance has been moved to give direct access into this space. Many had been puzzled by why Scott positioned the original entrance around the side of the building, away from the main street. This entrance remains but acts as an out-of-hours access solely to the library and its reading rooms. The main entrance, meanwhile, has adroitly been moved to the more public street. When we visited, it was buzzing with people both inside and out. On the steps to the entrance, visitors sat chatting and eating sandwiches, while indoors a new café was busy with people of all ages despite the signs stopping the use of laptops (if anything this has made it better). Instead of just a library, it has also become a destination and an enjoyable public space.

Further into the depths of the building, Scott’s original reading rooms have been carefully restored and given a new lease of life, while storeys that had been hidden by a 1960s extension have been reinstated and restored.

The level of craft and detailing is phenomenal. With the exception of the chairs – designed by Barber & Osgerby – WilkinsonEyre’s hand has touched everything. Particular care has been taken to restore and match Scott’s high-quality craftsmanship and original range of materials. Using a palette of stone, metalwork and intricate joinery, WilkinsonEyre’s attention to proportion, materiality and light in the new spaces gives rise to a quiet, scholarly gravitas that is new for this previously unloved building. This is a surprising and extraordinary project, which shows what can be achieved with love, care and passion by an AJ100 firm.

Weston Library by WilkinsonEyre

Weston Library by WilkinsonEyre

Read the AJ building study of weston library by Robert Bevan

Judges’ comments

‘At the Weston Library, WilkinsonEyre had to work out how to unblock the building in order to reconfigure it. This must have been very complicated. How do you do something like that without compromising the original? The restorative aspects of this building have been done with great care. Generally the finishes and quality of materials are very high. It is undoubtedly and excellent building.’
Jay Merrick, architecture critic, The Independent

‘This building has received an immense amount of thought and care from WilkinsonEyre. It captures the qualities of warmth and intimacy, and also of scale and grandeur, creating an amazing level of public engagement. It celebrates the darker reading rooms while adding light to other areas. It is really nice to experience a building like that.’
Hannah Lawson, director, John McAslan + Partners

‘WilkinsonEyre has re-energised this building and secured its use for future years. It is an unusual project for an Oxford college. The public-face of Oxford is like a stage set but this building is not.’
Philip Marsh, director, dRMM

‘This project has a level of complexity that you wouldn’t expect. It is a mix of small and big spaces, each with different qualities. WilkinsonEyre has successfully integrated the existing building fabric into a modern library. I would want to spend time there. It is a place where you can enjoy the experience of reading a book.’
Alan Dunlop, Alan Dunlop Architect

Weston Library by WilkinsonEyre

Weston Library by WilkinsonEyre

Source: Jim Stephenson

The shortlist

Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute, London, by Allies and Morrison

Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute, London by Allies and Morrison

Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute, London by Allies and Morrison

Read the AJ building study by Tim Abrahams

‘The massing of this beautifully detailed building is fantastic, while its relationship to the surrounding context is carefully considered and very legible.’

The Enterprise Centre, University of East Anglia, by Architype 

The Enterprise Centre, University of East Anglia by Architype

The Enterprise Centre, University of East Anglia by Architype

Source: Dennis Gilbert

‘This is a dream project for Architype. The ambitious and deeply embedded approach to sustainability here is genuine and not just an add-on and has created spaces you would want to spend time in.’

Plymouth School of Creative Arts by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

Plymouth School of Creative Arts by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

Plymouth School of Creative Arts by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

Read the AJ building study by Jay Merrick

‘The extraordinary and successful school building shows what can be delivered – even for an impressively low budget – if a good architect is involved.’

Buenos Aires Ciudad Casa de Gobierno by Foster + Partners

Buenos Aires Ciudad Casa de Gobierno by Foster + Partners

Buenos Aires Ciudad Casa de Gobierno by Foster + Partners

Source: Nigel Young

‘This building feels like the beginning of something and will surely act as a catalyst for regeneration of this area of Buenos Aires.’

Riverside Campus, City of Glasgow College, by Reiach + Hall Architects and Michael Laird Architects

Riverside Campus, City of Glasgow College by Reiach + Hall Architects and Michael Laird Architects

Riverside Campus, City of Glasgow College by Reiach + Hall Architects and Michael Laird Architects

Read the AJ building study by Owen Hatherley

‘This is a serious and compositionally very beautiful piece of contemporary architecture which has set a precedent for buildings along Glasgow’s riverside.’

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