This is a busy community gathering place and techno-resource centre for residents of one of Australia’s fastest growing regional cities.
The new eight-level Geelong Library and Heritage Centre occupies the same footprint as the former two-storey library it replaces. Three conceptual challenges sparked the design. We wanted to celebrate the tradition of great libraries, create an ambitious, future-oriented building, and design an organic structure that lets the natural world penetrate the interior.
The building inhabits both the past and the future. Its form pays homage to the ideals of self-improvement, knowledge and curiosity expressed in the domes of great reading rooms such as the State Library of Victoria. But the eroded sphere also conjures a future that is innovative and high-tech.
This sensitive, extraordinary site abuts Johnstone Park, the 1926 Geelong Peace Memorial and the Geelong Art Gallery in the civic and cultural heart of the city.
Our building is open to all these historic influences, including the heritage-listed fastigiate Monterey Cypress trees. We cut away part of the dome to extend the park into the building, a reference to ideas of gardens of learning and to the picturesque early Australian tradition of the beautiful ruin.
“Like a grotto or the entry to Fingal’s Cave, it breaks into a crystalline alcove, allowing the landscape in to its zone. From inside, you can look out at the park not through a flat glass plane but from vantages, from outcrops and crags, that overlook other lookouts. The garden comes into the building, onto ledges and eyries.”
—ARM Founding Director Ian McDougall
The crystalline glass shards of the west- and south-facing walls are like stalactites at the entrance of a cave. They recall the Renaissance tradition of the grotto as a primal space of retreat and reflection but the structural glazing of the façades—with both vision glass and shadow boxes—gives them the highest possible thermal rating. The design adds many boughs to the Geelong library: every floor looks onto the trees.
The digital revolution means computers are replacing books in many libraries around the world but our design reinvigorates engagement with the book as a beautiful, tactile object. The six-metre-high Great Wall of Stories stretches from floor to ceiling in the ground floor. Readers can browse the books from an elevated catwalk, reminiscent of the one at Sydney’s old Mitchell Library.
Visitors navigate the building via a bilingual directions board in English and in Wadawurrung, the local Indigenous language. Where traditionally libraries banned eating and talking, GLHC has elements of the community cyber café. The ground floor has an 80-seat café, a community gathering space and popular books and magazines.
Libraries are increasingly seen as a third place, separate from home and work, and the ground and first floors are proudly noisy. They invite people to meet, talk, play music, drink coffee, and use multi-media. There is a new exhibition space shared with the adjacent Geelong Art Gallery.
Floor one is for children and young people and has a landscaped balcony at treetop level. Floor two is for adult collections, magazines, journals and e-resources and includes a reading lounge and study rooms.
The core of the library, floor three, is quiet. The climate-controlled Heritage Centre houses Victoria’s biggest regional collection of public and private records. All live in a vast compactus and the entire floor is compliant with the State Archives Place of Deposit storage specifications. Its supervised reading room has smart tables and digital microfilm readers.
The fourth floor is for staff. The fifth is a flexible function room for up to 250 people with an expansive deck overlooking Corio Bay.
GLHC is also a working display of best-quality contemporary furniture. It is a place to use and learn about the work of nationally and internationally recognised designers. There are no reproductions: all furniture is honest and genuine.
The dome is clad with a geodesic tile array: 332 hexagons in 19 different sizes arranged around a single pentagon. (The skin of a soccer ball works in a similar way.) Tiles, coloured in a palette of four muted browns that complement the adjacent Peace Memorial, are graded in a heat-map pattern to accentuate the crest of the dome.
Ingenious bones structure the building’s skin. The steel and concrete columns and post-tension floor slabs involved standard construction techniques but the eroded spherical geometry creates jagged floor slab edges. Two peninsulas of concrete on the north-west and south-west corners are suspended from the roof via stainless steel macalloy bars.
GLHC incorporates up-to-date best-practice environmentally sensitive design initiatives and has a 5-star Green Star rating.
Features include a displacement air system and in-slab floor heating. Custom-made “clover columns” (shaped like the lucky leaf) waft conditioned air from the ground up. Pipes woven into the concrete screed radiate heat up through your feet. Both features minimise energy costs.
A quarter of the lower-ground floor is devoted to water collection and grey water treatment. The building is powered by a large solar array installed on the roof of the Peace Memorial next door.
A big eave, mosaic-like irregular-shaped tiles, and structural glazing help control the solar load on the building’s western façade. Local contractors supplied about 80 per cent of the goods and services, including demolition and significant finishes.
“The phenomenal visitor numbers demonstrate to us that the project is meeting all of its objectives – it is creating a vibrant hub in the centre of Geelong, further enlivening the cultural precinct; acting as a significant tourist destination; and providing world-class library and heritage services to all visitors.”
—Patti Manolis, CEO, Geelong Regional Library Service