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5 Library Buildings That Redefine Tradition

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Libraries used to have a reputation of being somewhat staid and stuffy places but no more. The digital age has seen them transform into vibrant community hubs, buzzing with wifi and social life. They have also become exemplars of innovative engineering, architecture and construction approaches that push the envelope of what is possible for civic buildings.

The City of Sydney’s newly-opened Green Square Library and Plaza is a triumph of design and engineering already recognised with a global accolade. It has been awarded Architectural Review’s Library Award 2018.

Designed by Stewart Hollenstein in association with Stewart Architecture, the project was constructed by John Holland Group and officially opened this year. Arup provided multiple engineering and design consultancy services including structural, mechanical, and sustainability.

Green Square Goes Underground  

One of the biggest challenges of the project was the design decision to locate the majority of the 2500m2 library underground. Such a choice was made to maximise the public open space of the surrounding plaza.

As the site comprises reclaimed flood-prone swampland, Arup’s engineering solution incorporated multiple layers of defence to protect against water ingress. Arup’s team worked closely with City of Sydney council, the architects, the builder, waterproofing and buildability experts to develop a suite of solutions.

Four layers of defence were designed to enable the structure to be located below the ground. The design had to take into consideration ways of minimising seepage from the surrounding water table as well as ensure the library and its contents would not be adversely affected by rain events.

Sustainability initiatives include 40 skylights recessed into the plaza pavement to provide natural light, a central sunken garden area, and an innovative and energy-efficient displacement ventilation system integrated into the library’s bookshelves.

The library complex also includes a glazed six-storey tower housing community rooms, a music room, technology suite, and reading rooms. There are also an outdoor amphitheatre, glazed entry pavilion, and a water play zone.

The project targeted a 5 Star Green Star rating under the Green Building Council of Australia’s Public Buildings tool.

Timber Breakthrough at Docklands

Library at the Dock in Melbourne was a game-changer for engineered timber construction. Delivered by Lendlease in partnership with Development Victoria and the City of Melbourne, it was Australia’s first multi-storey public building constructed with Cross Laminated Timber.

A substantial amount of the timber used to build the three-storey library was recycled and came from the demolished Victoria Harbour wharf. At the time of its completion in 2014, it was also the first public building to obtain a 6 Star Green Star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia.

In addition to being a place to borrow books, the library was designed to become a social and community hub for the growing population of Docklands. Spaces include editing suites, an event venue, exhibition spaces, a café, and digitally-enabled study areas.

One of the advantages of the timber construction was the lightweight nature of the building. It enabled construction near the water’s edge without the need for substantial piling works in the water below the heritage-listed wharf on which it is situated.

Apart from the use of timber, the numerous sustainability features include design for passive ventilation, an indoor-outdoor winter garden with operable façade and roof, rainwater harvesting and rooftop solar PV.

Milestone for Perth

Opened in early 2016, the new $60 million City of Perth Library was the first new civic building to be constructed in the city since the 1970s. Designed by architects Kerry Hill and constructed by Doric Group, it features a dramatic façade incorporating vertical battens of Western Australian Austral Verde stone.

The circular building’s seven levels include both digitally-enabled spaces and traditional reading areas and book collections; a large green wall; among other features. A ceiling artwork by WA artist Andrew Nicholls. ‘Delight and hurt not’ depicts a Western Australian interpretation of the final act of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

A large weeping fig tree in the interior children’s area was craned into the building via the roof.

The library project is part of a wider multi-million dollar redevelopment of the city’s Cathedral Square precinct, one of the oldest parts of the city.

Eroded Sphere at Geelong

Completed in 2015, the $45 million Geelong Library and Heritage Centre has won multiple accolades for both architect ARM Architecture and the builder—Kane Constructions.

The “eroded sphere” design fuses historical references and influences with the futurism of the digital age. It also exemplifies the new library ethos of being a “third place” independent of work or home where people can connect.

The eight-level building occupies the footprint of the previous Geelong Library. It blurs the line between the new building and the adjacent park by allowing the trees and greenery of the park into the ground floor. The  open terrace on the first-floor children’s level connects to the wider landscape.

The library also features a six-metre high “Great Wall of Stories.” It extends from floor to ceiling on the ground floor with a catwalk for public access to the books. On that floor, there is also a digitally-enabled ground floor café and social space to encourage interaction and conversation.

The project team’s emphasis on sustainable design and building systems gained the project a 5 Star Green Star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia. A spokesperson for Kane tells Jobsite 3D modelling was used to support the delivery of the complex and unique design.

The major construction challenge of the design was the geodesic dome roof constructed from glass reinforced concrete cladding panels. Approximately 550 panels, including convex hexagon and pentagonal panels, fascia and gutter panels were installed. Each panel and its steel subframe was fabricated offsite and later craned into position and bolted to the primary structure.

New life for Australia’s oldest library

Bear in mind, not only new libraries are showcasing digital innovation and leading-edge design and construction practices. Australia’s oldest library, the State Library of Victoria, is currently being refurbished and redeveloped to deliver spaces and facilities that will meet the needs of future generations.

The Vision 2020 project, funded jointly by the Victorian State Government and philanthropic bequests, involves a number of upgrades and additions to the 160-year old landmark. They include restoring and opening Queen’s Hall—the original heritage reading room and the oldest part of the library.

A “Conversation Quarter” featuring the latest in two-way digital and audio-visual broadcast technologies is also being delivered. The building is also going to feature new digitally-connected spaces, such as the “Create Quarter” and “Ideas Quarter,” to foster start-ups, entrepreneurs, and students.

The plans also reflect the changing nature of how people use libraries. For instance, Children’s Area will encourage play and family activities. There are also going to be ground floor social spaces and café as well as outdoor landscaped areas including a roof garden.

New exhibition and Heritage spaces will also foster the library’s attractions as a tourism destination and highlight the cultural and social history of the state.

The entire complex of 23 individual buildings occupying an entire city block is subject to Heritage listing considerations. Danish architecture firm, Schmidt Hammer Lassen, collaborated with local firms Architectus and Andronas Conservation Architecture on the design.

Leading Australian construction firm Built was appointed as lead contractor to deliver the $88.1 million redevelopment works package off the back of other complex heritage refurbishment projects at Flinders Street Station and St Kilda’s Palais Theatre.

“It’s important that we not only preserve and restore the heritage of such cultural icons like the State Library but also given them longevity for future generations. We’re proud to have played a role in delivering lasting cultural, educational and creative spaces at the State Library for the Victorian community now and into the future,” said Brad DeVincentis, Built’s Construction Manager, Victoria.


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