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If only they were all like this…

May 8, 2009

As one who knows nothing about architecture it’s not often I’m impressed by it – but I’ve been pondering what makes Winchester’s new library so fabulous, and that’s it.

Design.

Outside, it’s a fine old building:

Once a Corn Exchange, a market, a roller rink, a cinema... now Winchester Discovery Centre

Once a Corn Exchange, a market, a roller-skating rink, a cinema... now Winchester Discovery Centre

Inside, you’re drawn into an atrium with natural light above, and bookcases radiating away from you like spokes of a wheel. The ends of the cases are labelled in huge lettering so you know immediately where you are, and that if you go up the staircase opposite you’ll find the non-fiction ranged around you on the circular gallery.

All very imposing, but in amongst the grand design are plenty of hidey-holes to sit and browse, work tables with plug sockets underneath (joy for those of us whose laptop batteries are useless), wi-fi, and even a sofa. Decent loos (more joy!) and heaps of ‘spaces’ where other things happen. For once the consumption of coffee has been embraced as the central ritual it is, and instead of being relegated to a corner, the coffee bar faces the Library enquiry desk in an airy extension with a terrace outside.

I know most places don’t have the space or the cash to do this sort of thing, but when you see it done well, it’s truly inspiring. And yes, in case you were wondering, they do still have plenty of books.

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4 comments

  1. What a beautiful place and a splendid way to make use of it. But aren’t we allowed to call them libraries any more?

    A spanking brand new public library opened late last year in Crawley, where I live. Externally it matches perfectly the concrete brutalist style of architecture typical of the town centre when Crawley New Town was built in the 1950s. Inside it’s bright and spacious with automated touch-screen check-ins and -outs, banks of computers, wi-fi, DVDs, CDs, coffee shop etc. Oh, and some books, although not enough of them to frighten the populace. But at least it’s still called a library.

    Call me antediluvian but I love libraries that are stacked to the gunwales with books, books and nowt but books. My very favourite one as a teenager was the Central Library in Manchester, an elegant rotunda reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome, and entirely dedicated to all things bookish (though that was nearly 40 years ago, and I guess some of the bookshelves will have given way to PCs etc by now).


  2. Sarah, you’ll be glad to know that the pedestrian signs in the centre of Winchester still point to the ‘Library’! I don’t know whether that’s for the sake of clarity or whether they just haven’t got round to replacing them.

    I seem to have seen the insides of an awful lot of public libraries lately and don’t recall any without PC’s and internet access, but thank goodness none of them has had background music. Apparently Gloucestershire are giving it a try. Maybe in a few years’ time we’ll all have got hardened to it, but at the moment the prospect makes me shudder.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/5185201/Libraries-criticised-for-playing-music.html


  3. We’re so glad you liked the Discovery Centre, we think it’s fabulous too! Thanks for giving such an interesting talk.
    Jane – Communications Manager, Winchester Discovery Centre


    • Thanks, Jane. As you’ll gather, I enjoyed the visit!



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