Project of the month: Manchester Central Library
Manchester Central Library has re-opened after a £40m redevelopment and update, with designs by Ryder Architecture. The project has reshaped the way library, information and archive services are delivered in central Manchester, and dramatically improved circulation routes in the grade II* listed neo-classical 1930s building.
In the original 1934 design, only 30% of the floorspace was accessible by the public. But the new interpretation flips the percentages, and now almost 70% of the building is accessible .
The library is dominated by its central domed reading room, which lay above four floors of book stacks, and was surrounded by four “quadrants” of offices, book stacks and committee rooms.
Removing the floors of book stacks was fundamental for accessibility and public interaction. Now housed in the basement levels, the collections and archives enjoy the right environmental conditions (to BS5454:2000), while the newly created open ground floor space has become the public heart of the building.
Improving access to the upper floors of the library was also a key aim, as the existing staircases were visually impressive but functionally poor.
Ryder’s proposal was to hollow out one of the quadrants to insert stairs and a bank of scenic lifts. Choosing the eastern quadrant minimised the impact on sensitive historic spaces next to the library, namely the Town Hall Extension and the Library Walk.
The library now features a sweeping minimal steel and glass stair and 16-person glazed scenic lifts, in effect creating a new atrium. Openings have been created on each floor from the new atrium, from the basement to the fourth, allowing the new spaces to merge with restored areas.
The reading room, featuring the original Scagliola columns, takes the central space on the first floor, with differing types of study spaces occupying the outer ring. Furniture and fittings have been restored, and the central timber plinth, clock and desk have been returned to their existing positions.
The spectacular coffered ceiling of the Shakespeare Hall has also been painstakingly restored.
The main contractor was Laing O’Rourke, with project management by Mace and cost consultancy by Aecom.