out and about :: london’s libraries (part 2)

Now, where were we? That’s right, just outside Holborn Central Library.

Festival-style canopy outside Holborn library

Festival-style canopy outside Holborn library

In my last out and about post, we got half way through the 20th Century Society’s tour of London’s libraries; “Lend us your books, a day ‘in Libris’” and now for the rest…

Mosaic finish on pillars outside Holborn library

Mosaic finish on pillars outside Holborn library

Having walked past Holborn Library many times, and being a big fan of Festival Style, it was a surprise to have to have this one pointed out to me, but there it was. Designed by the borough architect, Sidney Cook; it was originally conceived in 1955. Building started in 1958 and it opened it doors in August 1960 to be considered the most modern library in England, possibly Europe – and to receive 250,000 people a week.

Handrail in Holborn library

Handrail in Holborn library

It’s not surprising that Cook visited libraries in Sweden and Denmark to look at library design from the likes of Holden and Pick, but what is a surprise are some of the more British features of the time; the like of which cannot be found anywhere else outside of the Royal Festival Hall.

Interior mosaic at Holborn library

Interior mosaic at Holborn library

The library originally included an aquarium, a children’s theatre and lecture theatre (the latter is still there, but not in use), a book bindery, and lending libraries for gramophone records and paintings.

Stairwell within Holborn library

Stairwell within Holborn library

The influence of Holborn library can be seen at our bonus library of the day (squeezed in because we were running ahead of schedule – the 20th Century Society run a tight ship!), Finsbury Library on St John’s Street – another one that I’ve walked past many times without noticing!

Pillar and underside of canopy outside Finsbury library

Pillar and underside of canopy outside Finsbury Library

Finsbury Library opened in 1967 and was designed by CLP Frank for the former Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury.

Exterior of Finsbury Library

Exterior of Finsbury Library

Then, east and back to 1934 to Leytonstone Library. Also designed by a borough architect, this time Ambrose Dartnall.

Leytonstone Library exterior

Leytonstone Library exterior

It has an impressive neo-Georgian frontage, and inside is one of London’s best-preserved art deco libraries.

Leytonstone Library interior

Leytonstone Library interior

Stairwell in Leytonstone Library

Stairwell in Leytonstone Library

Rumour has it Enid Blyton did some readings for children in front of an open fire in the former children’s library here.

Fire door within Leytonstone Library

Fire door within Leytonstone Library

Slightly sneaking out of the 20th Century’s Society’s era, the next library was previously West Ham Library, now the University of East London, Stratford Campus, Library.

University of East London, Stratford Campus, Library

University of East London, Stratford Campus, Library

Pevsner describes it as having “a late Victorian ‘free style’ exuberance, with allegiance to forms from the past thrown aside.”

Domed roof window at University of East London, Stratford Campus, Library

Domed roof window at University of East London, Stratford Campus, Library

Inside the book stacks tower above you, fittingly intimidating considering the weighty tomes on their shelves. There are lots of fine features including two inscriptions which read: “no furniture as charming as books” and “speech is great but silence is greater.”

Fireplace in University of East London, Stratford Campus, Library

Fireplace in University of East London, Stratford Campus, Library

Then on to the controversial Chrisp Street Poplar Idea Store, designed by David Adjaye and completed in 2004. In a bid to engage local people with their library, Idea Stores follow a retail model, using bright colours and employing managers instead of librarians.

Idea Store, Poplar

Idea Store, Poplar

They have responded to consumer research, which found that word ‘library’ was off-putting (hence Idea ‘Store’), and more computers and fewer books were required. They even have computer consoles where local teenagers can come to play the latest game. This approach has not met with the approval of the old guard, but to its credit it sought to engage the local community and it was the busiest and most diversely populated library I’ve ever set foot in.

Interior of the Idea Store

Interior of the Idea Store

Peckham Library was the last stop on our tour and what a finale. It sours up into the sky, a symbol of the regeneration of the whole area.

Peckham Library

Peckham Library

The brightly coloured exterior (the geek in me loved that the coloured panels were in C,M & Y, although sadly no K) and roof top letters spelling out LIBRARY shout from the roof tops what this building is for, with no pretence or shame.

Peckham Library

Peckham Library

The pods inside (housing a meeting room, a children’s library and a specialist Afro-Caribbean library) give it a sense of high drama.

Pods inside Peckham Library

Pods inside Peckham Library

Again it was full of young, local people, so something is clearly working.

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Further reading for the especially geeky:
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