The elements included within the brief required a much bigger floor print than the actual space provided by the council for the project. Hence, the architects came up with the inverted pyramid shape that grants enough floor space to the project. Ideally, the perfect reading room is horizontal and wide, measurements that the ground level could not provide. Thus, the reading room was moved to the enlarged top floor leaving the street level to the cafe The problem with this was that, like a golf tee sustaining a ball, there’s not much to support on. To overcome this engineering obstacle, oblique columns connected to the central core were installed in the skeleton of the building so that it wouldn’t fall on either of its sides. Moreover, the plan was designed keeping in mind that it would have had to be a place that would have become a community space as well as an escape from the community.
“Libraries are were you go to dream, to escape from the ordinary”3– Piers Gough
This philosophy within the brief gave shape to both interior and external characteristics. It’s materials (see side) and unconventional shape make it is so appealing to the eye that it draws people inside of it: it rises on the water’s edge like a bronzed ingot an is divided into cafe (ground floor) and library (top floors). The architects explain the intention was to “enter a cloud” where dreaming, studying and relaxing all became possible in one single experience. As a matter of fact, they managed to recreate the fictional world evoked by books in a real space: Canada Water Library (CWL for short from now one). In conclusion, this recently completed landmark can be summarized by its own architect’s words: a “Futuristic Pandora’s box of possibilities.” – Piers Gough
Personal Impressions: Vittoria Lenzi:
Walking in for the first time I was confused in whether I was entering a library or a recreational space. The orange wallpaper and glass lateral walls allow the entire ground floor to be immersed with a bright light that brings the building to life. The bar dominates the entrance and the tables, designed to entertain the customers, are placed strategically on the lake-side creating an “outside-inside” corner. A few steps towards the center of the floor and a wooden spiraling staircase invites you to the upper floor. An entire circumference in length manages to define an invisible boundary that divides the more quiet first floor from the cafe area below. The barrier isn’t only visible, but also audible: the noises muffle up and create a background noise which slowly dissolves into a distant echo once reached the last step of the staircase. A much more spacious room opens up in front of you: the library. The high ceilings allow imagination to flourish, as well as giving life to a relaxing experience that accompanies you for the entire time you spend in this “cloud library”. The low bookshelves enabled me to stretch my visible horizon into the surroundings of the building: on one side, the lake with its suburban flair and, on the other side, the line of skyscrapers rising up into the sky with the Shard making itself recognizable in the distance. People of all ages fill the corridors and study corners. They are scattered here and there, giving the impression of a space in which the city and its chaotic routine are left to the outside world. The smooth circular shapes also contribute to the creation of this peaceful feeling building up inside of me. The latter roundness is in strong contrast with the geometrical linear outlines of the exterior of the library, evoking a bipolar reaction to the building as a whole. Like a topaz, guarding the small artificial lake beside, it shimmers under the sunlight as soon as the clouds give it a chance to be under the spotlight. Exactly like in this moment, while I seat down under one of its slanting and outreaching walls… I feel protected, sheltered by these aluminium laminates that enclose this modern library in Canada Water.
Context: Southwark District
Although being one of the oldest boroughs in London, Southwark is now undergoing a process of intense regeneration (a substantial “40%”2) similarly to many of the boroughs on the south bank of the Thames. Shops, cafes, exhibition spaces and tertiary services providers, such as legal consultancy, are increasingly replacing the pre-existing manufactories present in the area to accommodate its numerous inhabitants (its population density is around twice that of London’s average3). This evolution allows us to recognize the council’s desire to transform the neighborhood into an even more proactive and lively environment rivalling the northern bank of the Thames. Although already home to the Millennium bridge, Tower bridge and London bridge, Borough Market, Tate modern and Imperial War museum, other major developments are under construction. Indeed, currently investing $4 billion for all developments2 and $14.1 million1 specifically for the CWL. In this way the Southwark council hopes to encourage more and more people to make the neighbourhood their own. Apparently successful, this desire seems to become more concrete by the day with a multi-ethnical population that sees only 52% of its members to be fully British. As a matter of fact, with over a million visits in the course of CWL first 6 months, the landmark’s position neighbouring the Canada Water basin and the tube station ensures that the library will thrive in this era in which libraries are constantly being shut down. Since many of Southwark’s residents don’t have such an exquisite quiet room where they can study/concentrate/relax at home, thanks to the CWL, they can now enjoy a higher standard of living.
Architect: Piers Gough
Member of CZWG architects, together with his former Architectural Association peers (1965-1971) Nicholas Campbell, Rex Wilkinson, Roger Zogolovitch (latter abandoned group in 2006); Piers Gough was the main architect who directed the works at CWL. The company doesn’t limit itself to one mere building type, but spans into a range of projects such as “residential, master planning & regeneration, shopping & leisure, education, community & healthcare and the workplace”2
He’s an inquisitive architect who never misses a chance to interrogate the people’s use of space.
Being born in the 1960s his attitude towards his work is deeply marked by Pop Art movement, evident by his colourful and humorous projects which strive to dissociate themselves from modernism. This is his attempt to avoid disappointing the public by creating boring surroundings in which to live.
Best known for the famous public loo and traffic island in Westbourne Grove: he has the ability to convert the smallest and perhaps simplest project into a point of reference within the local and international community. Indeed, the library, a decadent public service in process of extinction, was re-invented to compete with the challenging rise of technology.
“There’s nothing like being famous for being famous for the smallest thing you have ever done. My fame rests on a loo”
Piers Gough and CWL:
The library was CZWG first big public building, even though Gough is already in his sixties. This was also a lucky circumstance since the CZWG was chosen by British Land* rather than following the European rules to decide the winning architects. European rules would have excluded CZWG from participating to the concourse from the very beginning as public libraries’ projects are usually appointed to companies that have already worked with similar kinds of buildings.
His aim when designing the library was to provoke a double experience for the users of the service: enjoying both books and architecture. Moreover, the two coexist in a way that makes the other stand out i.e. the spiralling staircase imitates a high-street giving you the opportunity to browse the surroundings, not by showing shops, but in this case the books stocked in shelves.
The positioning of the library was crucial for its accessibility. The tube station of Canada Water is integrated within the library allowing readers from other neighbourhoods to use it readily.
“I’m proud of the building. It looks civic yet informal” – Piers Gough
RA Magazine Blog
Personal visit to the building on the Friday the 12th of October 2012.
*investor in UK property – their objective is to manage, finance and develop part of the UKs best buildings.