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.
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
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
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