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Work starts on Wright & Wright’s £23.5m Lambeth Palace library plans

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Construction has started on Wright & Wright Architects’ new library at Lambeth Palace, which will house one of the world’s most important religious collections

The £23.5 million scheme in the grounds of the Grade I-listed landmark on the south bank of the River Thames opposite the Palace of Westminster will be first new building on the site for almost 200 years.

On Friday (20 April) the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby led the ground-breaking for the library. Once completed, it will house the second-largest religious collection in Europe after the Vatican’s, with records dating back as far as the ninth century.

Approved last April (see AJ 19.04.17), the brick building with its eight-storey tower will provide ‘state-of-the-art’ archive facilities for the conservation and storage of the unique collection of historic manuscripts and books.

According to the practice, the ’design rationale is to elevate the precious collection – originally established by Archbishop Bancroft in 1610 – protecting it from any potential risk of flooding’.

The building, the firms claims, will also screen the garden from noise and pollution from traffic using Lambeth Palace Road.

The Church Commissioners for England selected the practice for the high-profile job in December 2015, ahead of big names including Zaha Hadid Architects (see AJ 08.12.15).

The present Lambeth Palace Library holds about 200,000 printed books, 30,000 of which date from before 1700; more than 5,000 manuscripts, 600 of which are medieval; and the records of past Archbishops of Canterbury.

Declan Kelly, Lambeth Palace Library’s director of libraries and archives, said: ‘The new building means the library can expand and enhance its mission to support the work of the archbishop and the wider church.

’We will be able to not only protect and preserve the collections but provide greater access to them than ever before. It will also be a space which can be used by and for the church to promote the Christian message and raise the profile of our Christian heritage as seen through the collections.’

Construction of the new library is scheduled to complete and open to the public in 2020.

Lambeth palace road elevation ¬ wright & wright architects

Lambeth palace road elevation ¬ wright & wright architects

Architect’s view

’The elegant contemporary brick building takes its design cues from the gate tower of the neighbouring Tudor Lambeth Palace buildings and emerges seamlessly from the red-brick perimeter wall of the palace gardens.

’The single-storey building rises to a well-proportioned eight-storey tower, the form acknowledging the historically defensive nature of buildings which create an entrance to the otherwise secure palace gardens.

’The simple tower form enables the reduction of the building footprint to the minimum necessary for the operation of the library, and, for the first time in recent history, elevates the entire collection above the flood plain, guaranteeing its safety from any future flood risk.

’This part of the building is cocooned in sealed masonry to protect the collection from the elements and pollution through passive means. Thus the past is preserved but not at the expense of the future.

’The simple glazed and bronze entrance, which incorporates Palladian principles of design, allows passers-by views of the palace gardens beyond as well as embodying the aspiration for the building to deliver a new era of accessibility to the library collection.

’Inside the building, public spaces and reading rooms are flooded with natural light providing tranquil views across the enlarged pond to the wooded and naturalised gardens beyond. The building also creates a new physical barrier between the busy Lambeth Road and the gardens, significantly reducing noise and air pollution.

’At the top of the library tower, a multi-functional viewing space is created, allowing direct views across the river Thames to the Palace of Westminster, reinforcing the historic connection between church and state.’

Lambeth palace library site plan with key

Lambeth palace library site plan with key

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