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Baillieu Library redesigned for the past, present and future

Posted by on 29/06/2018

Inside the Baillieu Library, reworked by Lyons Architecture. Photo: Peter BennettsThe University of Melbourne Baillieu Library has been a centrepiece of the architectural gems on the campus grounds. Designed by John Scarborough & Partners and opened 1959, the library was sympathetically extended with a similar glass curtain wall a decade later.
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So when the university commissioned Lyons Architecture to rework the ground floor of the library and the exhibition space on the first floor, the past, present and future were clearly embedded in the architects’ minds.

“Our brief was to adapt the old library, predominantly filled with books, into a contemporary learning space for students, with flexible spaces,” Lyons design director architect Neil Appleton said. “It was about a new way of delivering services, ‘side by side’, rather than the traditional model of ‘over a counter’.”

From the forecourt, the Baillieu appears almost as it was when former prime minister Robert Menzies opened the library. However, the lobby has been lightly reworked, replacing a display case with a glass window to allow unimpeded views into the library.

The new glazing also creates a sharpened focus for the Norma Redpath sculpture featured in the lobby, complete with its black-painted wall.

However, what was previously used as the reference book collection area has been opened up by means of new glazed and laminate walls/shelving. And rather than just one form of seating arrangement, there is a myriad of configurations: trestle-style tables, lounge areas complete with steel computer tables, together with enclosed rooms designated for project work. There is even a pint-size workstation slotted in between the shelves for students who prefer working on their own.

“Previously, the emphasis was on shelving for the collections. But as you can see, it’s now more important to have the power points in the right location,” library redevelopments general manager Karen Kealy said.

“The students also use the spaces differently at certain times of the year. When it’s swotvac, you tend to see more students working on their own, and there’s greater hush.”

While the new style of working has been thoughtfully included, so has the past. Lyons retained all the Featherston furniture.

They also used linoleum on the floors. And where tiles needed to be introduced, such as on pillars, glass mosaic tiles evocative of the period were used.

“The other issue was creating a secured area for the high-use book collection after hours,” said Appleton, who included a series of sliding glass doors across the space to create an extended-hours zone for students.

This extended-hours zone, complete with organic-shaped pods, replaces the formal arrangement of librarian on one side of a reception counter and students on the other.

Students and library staff interact side by side, eliminating the hierarchical approach. In breaking down the “barriers”, the architects were also able to showcase Scarborough & Partners’ sinuous curved staircase, previously partially concealed behind timber and glass-batten screens.

Lyons also carefully reworked the exhibition space on the first floor. Previously, it was a through space, with people often walking straight through the gallery to the lifts.

New glass perimeter walls were inserted, together with movable walls that can be rearranged to suit individual exhibitions. Blinds were also removed from the windows surrounding the lobby, creating greater natural light as well as framing Redpath’s wall sculpture.

One of the greatest surprises, although concealed behind doors, is the Leigh Scott room, named after the university’s third librarian and containing Robert Menzies’ personal book collection. Complete with Star Trek-style chandelier and original fittings, it is a wonderful time warp. “We sometimes use this room for exhibition openings. It still has that sense of the past,” Ms Kealy said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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