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Reading room

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aj building study

BDP has opened up the usually enclosed world of libraries in Bournemouth, providing panoramic views out and an interior full of light, and cutting away the floor to create a linked two-storey volume

When BDP project director Chris Harding pointed out at a Bournemouth council meeting that its new library would have a superb vantage point over a canopy of trees, the response came 'What trees?'.

It is a tribute to the magical properties of architecture (when it works) that it conjures up unimagined vistas into the world around - lyricism on the doorstep, which, without its revelation through the lens of a new building, would have remained forever hidden. It is especially pleasing when that new revelation is not just for a lucky few but is a gift of a public world to the public itself.

Sitting in the epicentre of the Bournemouth library, every user can revel in an unimpeded view of this newly discovered outside. From these vantage points, normally the least privileged within a deepplan building, the library celebrates and makes the most of Bournemouth's remarkable clashes of topography. The view takes in the myriad varieties of outside: not just the green, still lush in midwinter, but the undulating roofs of the shopping streets, the bus station and the hills beyond.

The lay-out concept, carried through by job architect Keith Papa, is deceptively simple (barring behind-the-scenes spaces).

Essentially, there are two unimpeded floor plates, with enviably high ceilings, making for pleasing proportions throughout.Where these plates are cut away, a whole number of things happen.One of the most important is allowing daylight from the four great rooflights to pour uninhibited into the centre of the building.

Working via an ingenious section, these 'light scoops' filter direct sunlight through roof-mounted reflective louvre blades and bounce gentler morning and afternoon light into the centre, making it sensually as well as visually a space to sit and browse.

This absence of privilege is knowing; the library has an in-built democracy about it.

Other manipulations of the floor plate underline this. Entry is celebrated with what is effectively a quadruple-height space. At the second floor, an 'island' floor area connected to the remainder by bridges forms both a performance space, visible from virtually everywhere within the building, and an exhibition area for paintings, allowing promenades through the space.

The interior of the library is characterised by a tremendous verve. Structural concrete columns throughout free up the plan, with orange-painted steel columns announcing the entrance placed at 70infinity angles. It is here that a robust architectural intelligence can be recognised, keeping the costs of this development down while delivering a stylish interior space. The philosophy of BDP's 'Living and Learning' section boils down to a focus on the user.

This has driven Bournemouth's architectural decision-making, which is short on gimmicks and strong on priorities - using economic restraints to spend where it will please and ease the lives of the greatest number of people for the greatest amount of time.

Tangibly luxurious and static-free, purplish ultramarine carpet extends throughout, other than the stairs. It works equally well with the prevailing pale beech of chairs, bookcases and work tables, and with the aluminium of the huge exposed ducts, which deal with air handling on the top floor. By contrast, the normally ubiquitous suspended ceiling has been unceremoniously binned in all but a couple of offices. This makes possible a palette of dramatic lighting, delivered for the most part with a variety of luminaires hanging from the ceiling, whose differing character underlines the various zones and uses that overlap within this vast space.

BDP expertise is also effortlessly apparent in the acoustics. Double glazing specified to exclude traffic sound, together with hard surfaces, the carpet, the books and acoustic insulation to the crinkly tin roof soffit, all come together to make appropriately calm but undeadened surroundings. It is a place where people can have a conversation comfortably, or concentrate without hearing any untoward pin-drops.

It is clear that once large-scale decisions have been made, such as the free views and enhanced daylight, they have not then been fiddled with out of existence. The low-level bookcases, one of the library's most pervasive presences, are a case in point. When examined, this apparently very modest decision is transforming: each case is a uniform height of four shelves and 1m long. They allow the space beyond to be seen through each shelf, and the penetration of daylight remains uninterrupted. The result is the antithesis of the claustrophobic experience of an old-style library - that feeling of being hemmed in by a world of books.

Books at Bournemouth do not overwhelm. Instead, they are shown off, presented in tempting amounts limited to the browser's cone of vision. Bookcases have a display shelf where new acquisitions may be taken in instantly, and they are on wheels, making them easily moveable, so as to free up the entire space, for example for performance. With their white shelves and beech uprights, in the amorphous space where straight lines have been banished, they make possible inter-relationships between formerly discrete bodies of knowledge, more than the most tempting of bookshops.

It is appropriate, too, to discover computer terminals, the contemporary signifier of knowledge at your fingertips, scattered throughout the library. This spirit of accessibility is confirmed in the signage and planning. The information desk is signed with a huge 'Ask here'. Issue-and-return is immediately visible at the top of the stairs, embodying the clear comprehensibility of a really effective website.

The outside is where the redefinition of the library in such 21st-century terms literally hits the street. There is a perennial question mark hanging over the outside of libraries; a branch of architecture par excellence concerned with the interior experience. It has become a cliché to praise the working spaces of the British Library while remaining lukewarm at best over the exterior.What is an appropriate elevation of an interior architecture so satisfactorily complete within itself? One of the most famous of all library spaces, the original British Library reading room, was buried so deep within the building that no elevation was necessary. The exterior of Labrouste's Bibliothèque Sainte-Genevieve in Paris treats itself as an unashamed box that, like the index of a book, lists its contents.

BDP's view in the original drawings of this library suggests the wish to extend its open expansiveness into the outside world through large areas of glazing on the northern side. Some of this remains, and, in principle, the approach from this side impresses, revealing the up-beat interior goings-on, most particularly at night. However, the presence of large-scale retail outlets along the road and the absence of an entrance until round the corner, makes it feel like a back.

There is also a large expanse of brick wall, whose 'wallness' becomes a lot less appealing when it is a matter of textural variety of brickwork and the competent orchestration of expansion joints. On the south-western side, shops line the street with the library above - a fine idea, providing revenue when let. But in the finished building neither the image of library, nor the shops dominate.

The result is an uneasy compromise.

But while the new library may not have the external aplomb of its Edwardian predecessor, Bournemouth seems to have a popular success on its hands. It is quite something, especially as this is the first-ever PFI library. In choosing BDP, Bournemouth picked not just a safe pair of hands but a firm whose practical imagination and social commitment have been striking.

Chief librarian Medi Barnard clearly revels in the experience of collaboration.

'When paths of light open up in front of me I feel like Louis XIV gazing down the vistas of Versailles.'

The pleasure is that all the public are transparently welcome in this new, 21stcentury kingdom.


As part of our civil, structural and services engineering, the design uses exposed concrete slabs to absorb heat, reducing the need for cooling and minimising energy consumption in the mixed modes servicing.

The building consists of an in-situ concrete frame with a subbasement providing a lower ground floor and an exposed coffered structural concrete soffit to the library ceiling at second-floor level.The roof over the second floor library consists of an exposed steel frame and structural decking, which support the roof coverings and exposed services suspended from the ceiling.

The civil/structural design involved supporting the public highway around the sub-basement and the construction of this building against existing town-centre structures.


Henry Jones (Kier Regional) www. kier. co. uk

Building Design Partnership www. bdp. co. uk

Upton McGougan www. uptonmcgougan. com

IEI Building Services Engineers www. kier. co. uk/

IEIBuildingServicesEngineers Northcroft www. northcroft. co. uk

Caxton FM www. caxtonfm. co. uk



START ON SITE DATE September 2000


GROSS EXTERNAL FLOOR AREA 8,650m 2 (inc. retail shells)

CLIENT/CONTRACTOR Henry Jones (Kier Regional)

PFI CONSORTIUM Information Resources (Bournemouth)

ARCHITECT, ACOUSTICS Building Design Partnership: Chris Harding, Keith Papa, Peter Taylor, Alex Veal, Malcolm D'Crus, Jane Green, Danilo Zecevic, Ian Bromilow


CONSTRUCTION M&E ENGINEER IEI Building Services Engineers



SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS Steelwork Billington; brickwork Peter Brett; decoration Crabb;

carpentry Castle; furniture Demco (LFC); plumbing John Carter; lifts Curti Lifts Southern; scissor lift Edmo Lift UK; tiling Gateway Ceramics; screed HA Boulton Flooring; plantroom roof Hayden Williams; plantroom cladding High Profile; electrical IEI; stairs, balustrades JG Fabrications; roof Kelsey Roofing Industries; floors Kingspan; plasterboard Kiwi Design; flooring Millerfield; plastering PDL; mirrors Priory Glass; concrete frame J Reddington; curtain walling Solaglas; solar shading, rooflights Vision; folding doors Wessex Industrial Doors; groundworks Worget Kalzip roof Corus; bricks Ibstock Brick; carpets Milliken Carpet; curtain walling Technal

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