New Bodleian Library in Building

Mon 13th Apr 2015 - 10:10
by Keir Pratt

The New Bodleian Library, the recently completed Pell Frischmann project, was given a 5 page spread in the 13th issue of Building Magazine this year. Now renamed the Weston Library, it contains a staggering array of irreplaceable treasures including a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed in Western Europe, 3 engrossments of the 1217 reissuing of Magna Carta and almost 10,000 medieval and renaissance manuscripts.

Originally built in the 1930's and designed by architect Giles Gilbert Scott to serve as an expansion of the original 1602 Bodleian library, the Grade II listed building had, by the late 2000's, developed collections including 1.5 million books as well as manuscripts, archives, music and maps. With the collection growing at around 1,000 books per day, a dramatic solution was needed to both house the collection safely as well as revitalising the library, one of the world's biggest and most famous, as a dramatic new educational and cultural landmark.

The existing structure comprised of two segments: a lower concrete frame perimeter block encircling the central 11 storey steel frame block. Due to the library's heritage listed status, it was the project vision to transform the building from the inside out, retaining the historic Gilbert Scott façade while completely demolishing and rebuilding central stack of the building. Extensive and intrusive investigations and demolition works had to be carried out with careful phasing so that the slightest disturbance to the sensitive and historic documents that remained in position was avoided.

The demolition of the central book stack allowed the construction of two widely spaced reinforced concrete cores, between which a ‘floating' concrete box containing reading rooms span over a wide open exhibition space at ground floor level. The box structure was designed to employ a vierendeel truss between the concrete cores, while below the concrete box an entire level is suspended with steel hangers which connect up into the main upper stack walls. In order to meet the requirement for a four hour fire resistance time of all new build elements, an extra layer of reinforcement was introduced to the concrete slabs that would be sacrificed in the event of fire contributing to the overall strength and serviceability performance on all ultimate and service limit states of design.

Fire safety was a major challenge on the retained parts of the building too, where slender steel columns were originally very vulnerable as they were both exposed and unprotected. Hundreds of elements were encased in concrete and studies proving they meet fire safety requirements were carried out.

We hope to hear more about the Weston Library in the future and urge you to pay a visit to the wonderful building and it's remarkable collection if you get the chance!