As one who knows nothing about architecture it’s not often I’m impressed by it – but I’ve been pondering what makes Winchester’s new library so fabulous, and that’s it.
Outside, it’s a fine old building:
Inside, you’re drawn into an atrium with natural light above, and bookcases radiating away from you like spokes of a wheel. The ends of the cases are labelled in huge lettering so you know immediately where you are, and that if you go up the staircase opposite you’ll find the non-fiction ranged around you on the circular gallery.
All very imposing, but in amongst the grand design are plenty of hidey-holes to sit and browse, work tables with plug sockets underneath (joy for those of us whose laptop batteries are useless), wi-fi, and even a sofa. Decent loos (more joy!) and heaps of ‘spaces’ where other things happen. For once the consumption of coffee has been embraced as the central ritual it is, and instead of being relegated to a corner, the coffee bar faces the Library enquiry desk in an airy extension with a terrace outside.
I know most places don’t have the space or the cash to do this sort of thing, but when you see it done well, it’s truly inspiring. And yes, in case you were wondering, they do still have plenty of books.