Peckham Library: a pioneer of social architecture
Quick trip to Peckham, a district in south-east London, just to have a look at the local library. Is it weird? Maybe…but I’ve heard about this building at University and now that I live in London I thought that it deserved a visit, even because we are talking about a Stirling Prize winner (in 2000), the Oscar of British Architecture.
The Stirling Prize is awarded to “the architects of the building which has made the greatest contribution to British architecture in the past year.” ( Can’t wait to know who’s going to win this year! Need to wait until October though. )
The Peckham Library was designed by the London Architect Will Alsop with a precise purpose: regenerate the surrounding area by attracting its residents, composed by members of different ethnies living together in the same community. Alsop was interested in redefining the library’s role within the local community in order to give the building a social value, to get people closer to culture and give them a proper meeting place able to reflect the multicultural context they are living in.
To do so he designed the library with an unusual shape and bright colours.
I could see it from the distance while I was approching it, especially the capital letters on the roof that reveal its function and that red tongue look like piece on the roof (which is used to give shade to the studying area).
Everything is striking from the upside-down L shape to the use of coloured materials as the vivid greenish copper of the facades plus the multi-coloured back windows. All the materials were chosen because of their expressive powers to make people curious about what is inside the building. Through the use of bold colours, untraditional shapes and patterns he has given the building its own individuality.
This building represented an innovative experiment at the time, that’s why it is so unique and particular and worth a visit if you are interested in architecture. With these features the Peckham Library broke the stereotype of the boring and fusty traditional library, seen as a serious and quiet environment in which social interaction is forbidden. So this example has actively contributed to change the way libraries are now seen and used.
The use of the space is innovative too. The building volume is divided in two blocks due to the function they host: the vertical one include the servant spaces such as stairs and elevators, the library itself is placed in the horizontal, protruding volume, at the fourth floor level, so that it can provide a quiet environment, plenty of sunlight and one of the best views of London.
The eccentricity goes on even in the interiors. Alsop designed three elevated, enclosed “pods” that host a meeting room, a children’s activity center and an Afro-Caribbean study center (really appropriate considering the previuos social observations).
Even the public square is considered as an outdoor but covered part of the library and it rather looks as if the horizontal volume projects forward in the attempt to include the space beneath it. I think the idea is brilliant but actually the space turned out to be too dark and I’m not sure if it fulfill the original aim of creating a welcoming, public meeting space.
<< other examples of innovative libraries >>
Open Air Library (in italian)