University of Reading Library Refurbishment, Phase 3

Podcast: Reinventing a Temple of Information

What is a library beyond books? Is a building ever finished? And should we ever build new?

In this Talking Spaces podcast, Rachel Bell, Bethan Hellings, Ed Davies and staff and students from the library talk us through the project, which speaks of creative reuse and reinvention at the heart of the University.

Phase Three of University of Reading’s £40m library refurbishment; an ambitious solution that meets the University’s vision to become a thriving, global institution.

A three-phase makeover

Back in 2012, the University of Reading’s six-storey library faced an uncertain future. Built in the 60’s, it was rated by the University as ‘functionally unsuitable’. Its façade was dated and its main entrance was hard to access. Similarly, its internal layout (deep plan, clutter of structural columns, low floor-to-ceiling heights) meant that it no longer lived up to students’ needs.

However, starting afresh would be too disruptive to the ordinary operation of the University. Instead, we experimented with a partial refit of storeys two to five. That was Phase One. When that proved successful, we carried out Phase Two: minor interventions to improve the toilet provision.

The brief

The University’s brief focused on improving the functionality, circulation, access, sustainability and appearance of the library in the context of their campus redevelopment masterplan and estate strategy.

Acknowledging the library’s prominence in the heart of a precious parkland campus, it was important to understand pedestrian flows to determine the location of the front entrance. Our analysis considered various options, but retaining the existing entrance in the western façade made the most sense as it had potential to be greatly improved.

Great for students and staff

Working with the structural grid, our design reconfigures the layout to offer different kinds of space for learning, teaching and study; complementing those already installed on upper floors.

By rethinking the entrance, removing the existing elevator core and slightly extending the ground floor, break-out spaces are now an important part of the design.

New glazed walls in the northwest corner house a dedicated café, while outside, the landscaping reveals the previously hidden entrance and incorporates attractive planting and seating. The enlarged foyer is airy and welcoming.

Bright and easy to navigate

A new fully glazed three-lift elevator and staircase core improves the flow of people around the building.

Positioned inside the south façade, it is easily accessible and brings much-needed daylight into the heart of the deep-plan building.

Intuitively legible

Aligned on the building’s east-west axis, the new design opens the library up to the rest of the campus. Re-establishing this dominant axis controls the zoning of uses across the floors, helping users make sense of the layout.

The whole building is tied together by repeating the building’s signature hexagonal pattern – a motif inspired by the double-height spaces’ monumental structural columns – in decoration both inside and on the façade of the building.

Contemporary quality

The library’s dated outward aesthetic is replaced with contemporary facade materials. The rooftop services are discretely screened from view, while the surrounding landscaping integrates the building into campus.

Getting everyone on board

We worked closely with the University to ease its plans through a rigorous approvals process involving fifteen different staff teams and consultation with the Student’s Union.

It’s the first time we managed the BIM Level 2 procurement process for a refurbishment project; a fascinating and successful learning curve. Getting the baseline data and fitting it in with our drawing plans and modelling was quite a challenge.