20.11 Group Exercise: Design a specialist library, three ‘commissions’


  • The Crit. The winning group present their design to the judging panel: Architect David Lea, Sylvia Harris, Cardiff School of Architecture and the Right Reverend Geoffrey Scott, Abbot of Douai Abbey. Image: Carla Marchesan.

The conference organizers had decided to run a short design project in which the librarians would take on the role of architects and attempt to produce preliminary ideas for 3 libraries of different sizes for 3 very different institutions:

An information and research centre in the Galapagos Islands,
A Catholic Enclosed Monastic Abbey in Yorkshire,
A replacement for the recently destroyed Macintosh library at the Glasgow School of Art.

The delegates split up into groups, each provided with well developed and useful briefs and plans of the locations. Their designs were assessed by The Right Reverend Geoffrey Scott, Abbot of Douai Abbey and its archivist and librarian, Sylvia Harris, and myself.

I was impressed by the ability of the groups to discover and to some extent develop in the very limited time available, genuinely architectural ideas about the organization of space, however it must be said that the results would not have won many prizes for fine drawing. The ideas were not purely functional, but poetic ones growing out of associations with the pre-existing context, and had the potential for developing the drama of space and light and form.


  • Winning design: A proposal for the rebuilding of the Macintosh Library. Image: Carla Marchesan.

For example the Macintosh group took their geometrical planning proposal from the tile arrangements which Macintosh favoured and which appear again and again in his decorative work. This was a good, clear starting point which they developed in 3 dimensions to create a network of platforms and bridges which could allow light to penetrate the various levels of the library. I thought this was an encouragingly sophisticated proposal!


  • Silver medal for the leaf-shaped Enclosed Monastic Abbey’s library in the forest. Image: Carla Marchesan.

The Enclosed Monastic Abbey group proposed a leaf shaped form reflecting a building on the other side of the complex which they felt a need to balance. Curved and flowing forms invariably cause difficulties when you begin to try to integrate small low spaces like offices and cloakrooms with larger reading rooms. The little spaces can easily destroy the integrity of the bigger ones. There are really only two ways round this, to thicken the walls to accommodate the little rooms, or to make the little spaces islands floating within the larger space, and this was what the group proposed. Again, I think it is unusual to get to such a fundamental architectural decision in one move! However the spatial arrangement did not convincingly express the use by an enclosed religious order.


  • Bronze for the design for the Charles Darwin Foundation’s Library in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands. Image: Carla Marchesan.

The Galapagos group’s rather casual presentation did not address the very unique location and purpose of the research library but it did recognize the potentially enlivening effect of water in their building though they did not give themselves enough time to develop this very far.

This was an original and enjoyable exercise within an excellent conference, and I thought very well worth the time spent on it.

Review by: David Lea, Architect, Ogoronwy, Llanfrothen, Gwynedd

winnerWe drew lots within the winning group to allocate the Generously offered Cambridge University Press book voucher, which was won for London Metropolitan University Arts and Design Library by Daphne Chalk-Birdsall, here pondering over her team’s winning design. Image by: Carla Marchesan.



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