Sheppard Robson remodels famous Philip Larkin library at the University of Hull

7th December 2015

Sheppard Robson has completed the £28m transformation of the University of Hull’s Brynmor Jones Library where poet Philip Larkin was librarian (1955-1985). The 16,000m² project involves the complete refurbishment of the library’s two buildings – the 1956 original Art Deco building, and the eight-storey plus basement Brutalist building that was added in the 1960s – with a newly formed central atrium space improving the connectivity between the two.

The brief was to create a library for the 21st Century and move forward the agenda for university libraries, which had been through a period of rapid change over the last decade. This open brief was supplemented by a rigorous audit of the university’s requirements: this looked at the challenges of the existing space and how it impeded interaction between students and staff as well as how insensitive alterations to the fabric of the building hindered the previous way-finding strategy.

The brief quickly expanded to include ways of merging traditional library services with spaces for interactive and informal learning. This also included delivering a design that encapsulates the mature and established reputation that the university has for research, creating dedicated areas for postgraduate students. This all had to be achieved whilst keeping the library fully operational, with no book or resource unavailable throughout the entire construction phase of the project.

A new main entrance to the south of the building connects the remodelled library to the surrounding public realm, re-orientating the building to face onto the main circulation route through the campus and unites the previously separate west side of the campus with the wider context. This new entrance has been created within a new brick colonnade, which creates a stronger presence for the building and mediates between the eight-storey 1960s building and surrounding smaller-scale structures, helping root one of Hull’s tallest buildings within its civic context.

The ground floor has been designed to be a publicly-accessible, permeable space. The security barriers – usually positioned by the entrance of libraries – have been moved to the core, creating a 2500m² welcoming space for students, staff and the public. An 80-cover café creates a connection between the ground floor and the public spaces to the front of the building, animating the entrance. The ground floor space – like most other areas of the building – has been stripped back to its concrete frame and totally remodelled. This gave the opportunity to restructure the floorplate and introduce a new four-storey atrium at the heart of the project that allows for better connectivity between the two buildings.

Located on this floor are drop-in computers and teaching spaces, as well as a new gallery and flexible exhibition hall for the University. The latter creates a new home for the University’s collection of 20th Century painting and sculpture, which was previously on show in a small basement elsewhere on campus. The new facilities, with National Gallery standard humidity and temperature controls, allow the university to invite works and exhibitions from other collections to exhibit in these spaces, resulting in a much-improved curated arts programme.

On the first floor, the two buildings are successfully integrated, offering a much wider choice of learning spaces than before. The original large, open spaces of the 1950s structure have been opened up to create areas for focused learning, with spaces for group work around other parts of the floor.

Given the 9m-high ceilings on this floor, noise levels were identified as an issue during the briefing stages of the project, and the acoustics of the space are carefully controlled through the specification of furniture and soft materials by Sheppard Robson’s interior design team, ID:SR. Since completion noise levels have fallen in the large open spaces, which is mostly down to giving students the option of focused and group spaces in close proximity.

In the centre of the original Art Deco part of the building, Sheppard Robson’s design refurbished the library’s heritage suite including Philip Larkin’s office and conference room. This also includes reintroducing the original light fittings for the reading room.

The upper floors of the building store and provide access to the library’s collections. Each floor positions quiet individual study space around its perimeter, with a mix of informal individual and group spaces to the centre.

Arranged around the cores are formal group study spaces. The repetitive floorplate on levels three to six provides all the amenities a student needs, anywhere in the building, providing choice wherever you choose to study. These floors, along with the rest of the library, provide 36 different styles of learning environment to cater for the widest possible needs of learners.

This unique floor in the library is one of the highest floorplates in the city. It houses the observatory, which frames views across the city whilst providing the most informal, flexible and interactive working environment, with extensive technology available for student collaboration. The students can move and arrange the available resources to best meet their learning needs. The observatory also holds the University’s special collection of rare reading materials. Housed in a glass temperature and humidity controlled box, with display and dedicated reading space.

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