Why Peckham Library looks like it does

It was one of the capital's first major buildings with a challenging form, says Chris Rogers in his new book

Peckham Library. Images: Shutterstock

This library and community facility in an inner-city location was one of the first major buildings in London to take a more challenging form, with its projecting upper levels. The strong colours and unusual textures of its metal mesh and patinated copper cladding were controversial.

Much was due to the ethos of its lead designer, Will Alsop, but the client was pursuing a campaign of regeneration and therefore receptive to the possibilities for continuing a sequence of similarly-motivated projects around a new public square.

The library was also unusual in having sustainability in mind. It was to be heated, cooled and ventilated through orientation and massing (the overhang protects the lower floors) with minimal mechanical assistance, although full air-conditioning has now been fitted.


Cross Section.

The main library is raised to the fourth and fifth floors, for the views (Alsop wanted users to appreciate their neighbourhood’s position in the wider London landscape) and noise reduction. Architecturally startling, the structure remains conventional with steel and concrete columns and beams.

Heart of glass

Heart of glass./caption]

The rear elevation is entirely glazed, with contiguous panes in bold colours – includingyellow, red and green – used to delineate rectilinear patterns. Some are in the shape of the library, while others follow areas of movement within it such as the staircases.

Bright and light

The double-height upper level is framed by reinforced concrete, cross-braced in places where wide panes of glass are fitted. The pods are reached from the fifth floor mezzanine, a spiral stair giving direct access to one for children from their dedicated library below.

Pedagogic pods

[caption id="attachment_7716" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Pedagogic pods.

Hoisted on tripods, the three curvaceous bulbs or pods originally also contained a meeting room and, in the open-topped example, a special collection. They are sheathed in extremely thin sheets of plywood. The library’s raking steel supports continue through the floor to the roof.

Location: Peckham High Street, London SE15. Date: 1998–99. Architects: Alsop & Störmer

Curious to learn more? This extract was taken from How to Read London: A Crash Course in London Architecture by Chris Rogers. Published by Ivy Press, RRP £9.99.

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