Monday, 30 July 2007

Library design

Oldham Library

The Guardian Weekend magazine recently had a feature where they took architects back to the buildings they had designed to see how well they were working in practice. Colin St John Wilson was taken to the British Library, St Pancras, which is generally regarded as having been a great success. Unfortunately Sir Colin (who died in May this year) was not able to get into the reading rooms as his reader's pass had expired. The person on the desk insisted that he must produce some ID to rejoin. "There's a bust of me downstairs, Will that do?" he replied.

The article also featured Will Alsop returning to the Peckham Library, London which won the Stirling Prize in 2000. This has received some criticism from users and staff - one librarian commented that the light bulbs are difficult to change and that ventilation is poor. If buildings really are machines for living (and working) in, rather than works of art to look at, then this needs to be fixed. Alsop was reported as being unimpressed by what has been done to his building - "It looks a bit municipal now and that's what I didn't want it to be" - but why didn't he produce a machine that worked well in the first place?

Designing a library that looks good, inspires its users and yet works well on a number of different levels is an enormous challenge. In September I have organised a visit to see the new Oldham Public Library. This building attempts to integrate a range of functions while contributing to the regeneration of a neglected part of the town. It is also a "green" building with rainwater collected from the roof being used to flush the toilets. It has been shortlisted for the 2007 Prime Minister's Better Public Building Award.

But does it work? Sign up for the visit and find out for yourself.

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