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Striking library design set at the heart of Girls’ Boarding School Campus
The Woods Bagot London Studio has designed & delivered a beautiful new library at the heart of the St. Mary’s Calne School campus in Wiltshire, UK. Having opened its towards the end of 2020, the library is a hub of inspiration and learning, with a striking design that incorporates the adjacent apple orchard and surrounding century-old buildings.
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From the western side along the main road that runs through the campus, the 660-square-meter edifice appears as a simple, rectangular pavilion clad in brick and topped with an articulated roof of timber and glass. Upon entering, visitors are welcomed by a dynamic interior with each story having a distinct purpose and specified zones. While the ground floor is meant to be lively, aimed at group projects with direct access to an orchard adjacent to the library, the upper level has been designed for more formal focused, individual studying.
Brick “bookends,” or separate ancillary forms along the northern and southern areas of the building’s perimeter provide storage, stair access, small project rooms, and warehouse control systems. To optimize the spaces available for learning and reading, conventional book racks are replaced with study booths, display zones, and shelving within the interior walls.
The glazed façade faces northeast to limit direct sunlight while illuminating the newly formed passage from the library to the gardens and orchard. Taking direct inspiration from the fruit trees, several structural support beams connect to the undulating interior-side of the roof to give the impression of a tree’s branches. Clerestory glazing enables the appearance of a floating roof and double height curtainwalls fill the spaces with daylight from the top. A metal detail is integrated throughout the façade to continue the vertical elements of the trees.
The scale and detail of the building is sympathetic to the architecture of the entire school in its elevations but deliberately modern in its composition. With the final touches achieved in November 2020, this building completes the western edge of the grounds’ central greenspace and provides a new academic haven for its students.
Photography by Will Pryce
“We are truly delighted with our new library and how the design for this space is transforming the way in which our girls can study, relax, and collaborate. This building, placed at the very heart of our campus, is both welcoming and inspiring. With flexible spaces and the considered use of technology – as well as the ease of access to books and the quiet nooks in which to read them – has very quickly become the center of our school community.
“Woods Bagot has delivered on our vision, designing an academic facility which supports the ever-evolving nature of the teaching and learning experience. Over the years, we have worked very hard – thanks to the huge generosity of our donors – to conceive a space that motivates and gives our students the scope to spend time thinking about what they want to learn about, while being able to access and use the required information wisely.
“The ground floor provides those crucial opportunities for group learning and presentations, building confidence and encouraging collaboration. This isn’t just something that can benefit our students, but it will also play a fundamental role in training our staff – again, looking at how such spaces can reinforce a first-class teaching experience.
“The first floor allows for more solo reflection and knowledge sourcing, granting leisurely quiet reading or focused study. All of this then overlooks our very own orchard – a part of our school which we are particularly fond of, and it’s been so wonderful to see how this has been both incorporated and reflected in the design approach.
“Lastly, it was always important for us to bear in mind the immense history of our campus and the buildings that have been here for over a century. The library sits beautifully within these buildings, while still making its mark as a striking new addition.
“Learning should also be a life-long process, but it is so important that it starts at school. I suspect that many people never embark on the journey if that does not happen. Our girls are tremendously fortunate to be able to be doing so in such a fantastic new space.”
Dr Felicia Kirk, Headmistress at St Mary’s Calne School