Standing the true test of time, public libraries have always been a place of history, original ideas, self-improvement and contemplation. But despite their legacy or infrastructural functional requirements – that being, to simply accommodate for book exchanges – today, public libraries are engaging vibrant social locales for life-long learning and enjoyment, providing endless opportunities to meet and connect with people as well as knowledge.
When Kerry Hill Architects, turned to the design for the newly reimagined City Of Perth Library, the team knew that this public institution needed to be flexible enough to be many things for many different people. For the Lord Mayor of Perth – Lisa-M. Scaffidi – this offered an incredible opportunity to revivify “a historical but under-used and rather uninviting area of the city.” Contextualised squarely within the ambit of urban lifeways and community culture to this end, Kerry Hill Architects’ response constitutes one of the most significant developments in the history of Western Australia’s capital city and, in the words of Kerry Hill, “allows an architectural reading as a discrete object – a new contribution to the surrounding urban milieu.”
Considered the first major civic building construction since Perth Concert Hall was built 40 years ago, Kerry Hill Architects’ state-of-the-art 3,500 sqm City of Perth Library adds a fresh dimension to the precinct of Cathedral Square in Perth’s central business district.
Responsible for the entirely new cylindrical form, the design team’s competition-winning proposal incorporated heritage design elements to reference the surrounding streetscape. Not only does this activate the precinct once again, but it forges a sense of continuity in both the community and architectural expression of Perth’s dynamic identities.
Although the granite fins swathe the entire building to establish a civic presence, upon entry to the Library reveals the recessed ground floor through frameless glass panels. A curved staircase is accessible on all levels and wraps around the exterior of the building. While the main library collection spans multiple levels, a triple heighted void connects the various storeys of the building while also offering the form a sense of elevation that, quite literally, allows the mind to soar. Designing the upper levels of the building to taper southwards simultaneously maximised the exposure to direct sunlight and brought to effect a spatial hinge between Cathedral Avenue and the adjacent public amenities. These upper levels accommodate function spaces and the children’s collection that is positioned around a doubled scale “winter garden” with a central tree: The Tree of Knowledge, referencing the mythological crux of storytelling in the Christian, Judaic and Islamic traditions.
Internally, the use of materials and joinery such as timber detailing ensures that the new library exudes a warm atmosphere that welcomes the young and old alike to a familiar, comforting and safe environment. Softer finishes within reading areas tempts individuals to stay and read for longer.
In such a diverse and multi-functional environment, Living Edge’s HOWE furniture range was specified for its design simplicity, quality and functionality without compromising on style or performance. Specifically, the incorporation of the award-winning 40/4 Side Chair brings a supreme ergonomic value-add to the build and its awareness of public need and the provision of civic best practice. HOWE’s Tempest Table, which is recognised throughout the industry as a benchmark for being a ‘zero-weight’ system, brings advanced flexibility functionalities to the furniture systems used throughout to accommodate for this institution’s various and shifting needs.
Though The City of Perth Library has been rightly awarded numerous accolades including the inaugural Library Design Award by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), across the design industry the project’s true success is generally noted to be the innovative approach to material composition. This is urban intervention that is aware of evolving demographics and usage. This is serving the
community through ground-breaking design. This is City Of Perth Library: the city’s lounge room where people meet, play, learn and create together.
Design by: Kerry Hill Architects
Photography: Sebastian Mrugalski