UNIVERSITY OF GREENWICH LIBRARY

Shortlisted for the riba sterling prize 2015

“It’s not some ‘starchitect’ building that doesn’t involve the people who are going to use it.”

Adele Brooks, Estates Development Manager, University of Greenwich

The University of Greenwich Library, located in the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Maritime Greenwich, is a remarkably successful piece of modern architecture. But achieving a balance between design and function required a collaborative approach that included the client, end users and suppliers in the design process.

The University of Greenwich Library is the crowning achievement in an £80m redevelopment that has transformed the Stockwell Street area of the town. Designed by Ireland-based architects Heneghan Peng, the building’s limestone exterior has been constructed to blend with the historic architecture nearby, including Hawksmoor’s St Alfege Church and the Old Royal Naval College.

The interior, by contrast, is unashamedly modern, featuring raw concrete walls, integrated technology, exposed ducting and steel balustrades. With a premium placed on the design elements of the build, Adele Brooks, Estates Development Manager for the University, was keen to ensure the finish on the internal fit-out was second to none. Through a rigorous consultation process, the design ambitions of architect and client were constantly weighed against the practical requirements of staff and students.

“The result is just beautiful. It has exceeded expectations. For the University of Greenwich, this is a real step forward. But for me, my favourite part is seeing the students using the library, enjoying the spaces and exploiting the facilities they have.”

Adele Brooks, Estates Development Manager, University of Greenwich

Contract route
“It’s not some ‘starchitect’ building that doesn’t involve the people who are going to use it,” said Brooks. “The architect might want it one way but if it’s not functional for the university, you have to get both sides of the party to understand what we need to achieve, and develop a design that both sides are happy with.”

As a trained architect herself, Brooks was happy to take a number of components out of the main contractor’s remit, instead working directly with suppliers and architect. By adopting a traditional contract route, Greenwich gained greater control over the tender process, allowing Brooks and her team the space to develop user-led solutions for the library.

Shelving products pre-tested
For example, the university’s consultation group insisted on testing samples of shelving in the old library. “For library staff it was really important to get tangible shelving, to try it out themselves and on their students,” said Brooks. Bruynzeel Storage Systems’ shelving was selected, and the company then produced the final display units. Constructed from steel with white table tops, the units break up the space visually, but also work as a practical solution to stock rotation.

“In the old library, new books were just shelved and became part of the stock,” said Ginny Malone, head of library services. “Knowing how popular table-top displays are in a retail setting, we asked Bruynzeel to produce samples. That went down really well, so in every area of the library we now have displays where we can put the new books, arranged by subject area.”

Another issue identified by staff was solved by simple adaptation. “One of the important points was the addition of a plinth to stop students shoving books underneath,” said Malone. “In the old library, it became a great place for hiding a book so no one else could find it. We’d be lying on the floor to look under bookshelves pretty regularly!”

Future proofing
“We’re conscious that as the university develops, we expect other courses to be added to the portfolio on the Greenwich campus, so we are aware we will have additional stock coming in,” explained Ginny. “We’ve done two things to prepare for that. In one area in the basement where we have periodicals currently, we have prepared the floor to take rolling stacks in future. Should we need the space we could add rolling stacks for items not accessed so frequently. This works in conjuction with the future purchase of ebooks and ejournals, thereby releasing that space for other types of physical storage.”

Step forward for Greenwich
In total, Bruynzeel manufactured and supplied 5km of library shelving to house over 130,000 books. In addition it supplied mobile shelving for the restricted archive areas, finished in Jacob Jensen-designed end panels.

“The result is just beautiful,” said Brooks. “It has exceeded expectations. For the University of Greenwich, this is a real step forward. But for me, my favourite part is seeing the students using the library, enjoying the spaces and exploiting the facilities they have.”