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DRDH completes Farnham library - and bags another

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DRDH Architects has unwrapped its £1.2 million revamp of the 1997 Elaine Thomas Library on the University for the Creative Arts’ (UCA) Farnham campus

The firm has also won the £3.5 million refit of the ‘brick Brutalist’ 1972 art college and library designed by Kent County Council on UCA’s Rochester campus overlooking the historic dockyards of Chatham.

Work on another library masterminded up by the practice - part of the competition-winning £65 million concert hall and city library scheme in Bodø, Norway - is due to complete next year (see AJ 13.10.2011).


Farnham library - the architects’ view

The transformation of the library takes advantage of the scale of the existing spaces to create a variety of different study environments, through the imposition of large scale furniture elements. These allow for both individual and group working, creating atmospheres that feel appropriate for a specialist art and design institution whilst also addressing, through their scale and materiality, the building’s inherent acoustic problems.

The upper two floors house the principal spaces of the library, alongside offices for staff. Rather than the more usual rows of book stacks, these floors are arranged as a series of differently sized, book lined rooms. This strategy maximises the building’s sense of light and openness, uses space more efficiently and creates places for a variety of types of study. Existing open balustrading is transformed into solid edges containing low bookcases, reinforcing both the terraced section and the spatial integrity of each level. The rhythm of the bookcase frames defines a common visual and construction language across the new elements, whilst felt faced infill panels provide acoustic absorbency in both the main spaces and the more intimate study areas.

The bespoke birch ply offers a warmth and intimacy

The bespoke birch ply shelving that encloses these smaller rooms offers a warmth and intimacy, which remembers both traditional libraries and, perhaps, the contemporary bookshop. Creating a comfortable and inviting human scale that invites inhabitation and counterpoints the tougher elements and finishes of the existing building. The books of the collection are integral to the material character of each space whilst specially designed trestle tables, Eames furniture and Jasper Morrison lighting, introduce something of the creativity of the studio environment.

The ground floor of the building offers a new public face for the building, with a glazed frontage to the campus. Its character echoes that of contemporary art space, allowing it to host occasional exhibitions, alongside more day-to-day usage for informal group working and enquiries. A new research centre and archive occupies one end of this floor, presenting these activities as a key part of the institution and one that is accessible to students at all levels.

The £1.2million refurbishment, including the design of bespoke library furniture and signage design, was completed with contractor Kier and fit out specialist Delux in 11 months, with a site period of 12 weeks and to a project budget of only £700 per m².

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