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Reading Room

Part 2 Project 2004
Guy Derwent
Emily Day
Thomas Gregory
University of Bath | UK
Typological studies of four academic libraries lead to a fascination in the Bibliotheque Ste. Genevieve by Henri Labrouste, Paris. The cultural and spatial implications of Labrouste’s prefabricated decorative iron structure billowing over the monolithic stone walls produced a rich and atmospheric public interior. The design of the reading rooms in Kings Cross refers to the Bibliotheque Ste. Genevieve with the axial double vaulted ceiling whilst further destructuralising the vaulting system by hanging the ceiling and intersecting two domes asymmetrically at either end of the vaults.

Clerestory lighting is diffused by hanging the vaults within the perimeter of the room below window level, causing the light to refract into the space below between the delicate hung form and the steel frame armature of the building. The pure floating form of the ceiling creates an atmospheric space and establishes a delicate language of architecture that can be appropriated to the varying requirements of the reading rooms.

The site for the reading rooms to the rear of the British Library will be excavated and occupied by a gigantic eight storey subterranean steel building. The six storey environmentally controlled basement will house the libraries collection of literature, whilst at ground level an inhabitable double height podium creates important routes across the site and opportunity for relocation of local businesses lost in recent development. Above the podium huge pitched roofed buildings are juxtaposed and draped in a homogenous fabric-like layer of beige ceramic tiles which occasionally stretches open to reveal glazed openings.

Guy Derwent
Emily Day
Thomas Gregory

This year the studio's work concentrated on the idea of the public interior. A careful study of typologies revealed how the full blooded interiors of the past
were able to express certain cultural asperations at the same time as being generous enough to accommodate a range of shifting uses. We were rather liberal in our definition of 'public', not wanting to be too nostalgic and interested in how more contemporary programmes could drive the design of an interior.

Emily Day and Guy Derwent chose to make the interiors of a library, the extension of the British Library. They were fully aware of the rhetorical
content of their task, and their design is a riposte to Colin St John Wilson's building, looking beyond that building's references to Aalto and welfare state
architecture, to something older and grander. Their project also engages with the current reality of the Kings Cross site, replacing the tons of victorian
railway viaducts that have been demolished in the process of building the channel tunnel rail link, with new spaces that can accommodate more transitory
and changing uses.

Emily and Guy's project is impressive in even attempting to take on these wide issues. It puts forward a rich range of spaces, from small to enormous, that would become the core of the new library. The volumetric development of the main
reading room is fantastic, as is the way that ornament and furniture is handled to make the collection of spaces feel like a significant and generous public place. The work shows a judgement about what is appropriate where, that is
unsual in student work.


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