50 objects 10: A history of Brunel University London’s Library building

A post by the Library’s Graduate Trainee, Becky Tabrar.

Brunel University Library was opened on the 10th December 1973. Until this point, there had been no centralised library on the newly formed Brunel University campus, with resources temporarily held in the engineering and lecture centres. The intake of students vastly outnumbered the library spaces available, and the growing demand on library resources was detailed in an April 1969 Brunel Library Report, which estimated 40,000 books would be borrowed in 1969, compared to the 33,000 borrowed in 1968. By 1971 this number had risen to 75,000, and so the need for a standalone library building was evident.

The building that emerged, and now forms part of the Bannerman Centre, was designed by Richard Sheppard CBE, and his partner John Heywood, who together envisioned a functional building, at the centre of the university, which would complement the brutalist architecture of the Lecture Centre.

The Library after completion

The Library after completion

This vision is still present today, with the Library standing within the heart of the campus, directly opposite the Student Union, and with the older sections of the Bannerman Centre equalling the imposing nature of its brutalist styled neighbour, the Lecture Centre.

 

 

Architectural sketches of the planned Library

Architectural sketches of the planned Library

 

Nick Childs, Brunel’s librarian at the time, consulted with architects to ensure the Library environment would be cheerful, flooded with light and accommodative of every student’s needs; an ethos that the Library maintains today. The initial architectural brief stated that the building should be ‘fully open plan, with no internal walls’, and that study spaces should be arranged to allow the reader ‘a feeling of privacy’, but should avoid the appearance of an examination room. Plans were also made for a sound-proof typing room, a reading area for smokers (quite unimaginable today), and a ground floor area that would remain open, even when the Library was closed; perhaps the beginnings of our 24 hour service of today. The contractors chosen were William Moss, and construction began in April 1971, lasting for two years, at the cost of £532,682.

This image was taken shortly after completion and shows Sheppard and Heywood’s vision of an open plan library.

This image was taken shortly after completion and shows Sheppard and Heywood’s vision of an open plan library.

By 1976, 1,000,000 visitors had passed through the Library’s turnstiles; it had space for 1,200 readers; there were 16 kilometres of shelving; and 140,000 volumes lining these shelves. However, following Brunel University’s merger with the West London Institute of Higher Education in 1996, library provisions on campus were again insufficient for the growing student body. A library extension was designed by Rivington Street Studio, and construction began by Bluestone contractors in June 2003. The Bannerman building, in its current form, was opened by Lord Melvyn Bragg on 24th February 2005.

The 2004 extension of the Library.

The 2004 extension of the Library.

The Library has been a part of Brunel University’s skyline for 42 years, and in that time has served generations of Brunel graduates, and due to it being listed by the local authority for its unique architecture, long may it continue to do so.

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One thought on “50 objects 10: A history of Brunel University London’s Library building

  1. Pingback: Special Collections: 50 Things | Bookmark Daily

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