20.6 Aesthetics of library lighting: some practical considerations

Mary Ann Steane (University of Cambridge).


  • The Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge. To maximize light Wren placed the library on the upper floor, with very big windows length wise on both sides above shelf level to protect books from direct sunlight. Image: Carla Marchesan.

Mary Ann Steane gave a fascinating talk about library lighting which focussed on the importance of natural light and the ways architects incorporate natural light in libraries.

The basis of lighting a library is in principle very simple; provide enough light for the activity of reading. Mary Ann described how the increasing reliance on electric lighting may be hindering the extent to which daylight is considered in design. In addition, designing using daylight is complex due to the degree of variation at different times and the fact that it is less easily controlled. Mary Ann argued that daylight is intrinsic to spatial design and is particularly important within library design as it can balance a sense of enclosure and exposure. She highlighted that library users value variety, some wishing to lose themselves in a window view to renew contemplation, whilst others choose to sit beneath a skylight where they are less distracted. Mary Ann suggested that successful library lighting tends to involve an integrated approach to daylight, enclosure and view. She then went on to show examples of libraries where these principles of library lighting can be seen with contrasting effects including Seinajoki Library, Brighton Public Library and Peckham Public Library.

The talk opened my eyes to the impact that lighting, and in particular daylight, can have in shaping a library space and provided lots of practical advice to take away.
Review by: Sarah Turk, Chelsea College of Arts Library



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