Q & A with Ryder architect Lee Taylor

We caught up with Lee Taylor of Ryder Architecture, who is part of the team responsible for the Main Library Redevelopment.

Q: What were the main considerations when deciding how to approach redeveloping Main Library? 

A: We feel that in the refurbishment of an existing building it is critical to fully understand its history to appreciate the original purpose of spaces, how they have been modified over time and identify what currently works well and what needs changing

 Q: Can you talk us through the design process for a project of this scale? 

A: At the heart of the process is lots of discussion – listening and asking questions. From this we can establish the project vision and key aims. We then generate and test ideas and options for organisation as simple diagrams and using models, assessing them against criteria of brief, practicality, programme and cost. Once a preferred scheme is established we progressively establish the detailed brief and develop proposals which meet it.

Q: Do you have a specific style that carries from one project to the next? 

A: We have an approach rather than a fixed style – simple, elegant, functional, delightful.

Central Library, Manchester

Q: You recently completed a stunning four-year £48m transformation of Manchester Central Library. Have you been able to draw on this experience for inspiration in redeveloping Main Library? 

A: Whilst there are obvious similarities between the buildings, there are also marked differences in requirements which require a bespoke solution in each case. For example, the red area was constructed at almost the same time as Central Library and they share many construction details and contain the same structural shelving system. However, Central Library was closed throughout the duration of the construction works whereas at Main we have to retain operational continuity throughout. This is the project’s main challenge in terms of both design and construction.

Blue 1, Main Library

Q: A major part of the design has been to introduce more natural light into the building. How did you determine which areas of the Library the extra light should be created in? 

A: The existing building has two very different environments. The historic areas (everywhere other than blue) are arranged with long, narrow floors and large windows providing good daylight and views out. Blue area has a very deep and virtually square plan arrangement with narrow vertical slot windows and very limited interaction with the outside world, so this was the area to target bringing in more natural light. We will be substantially increasing the amount of glazing to the upper floors of blue to improve both the amount of daylight and views into the courtyard which will be transformed by the demolition of the central Muriel Stott building and new landscaping.

Artist Impression, Orange double height spaces
Artist Impression, Orange double height spaces

Q: Way finding is one of the biggest issues currently facing users of the Library. How will the redevelopment address this problem? 

A: The key to good wayfinding is to provide simple organisation which is easily legible supported by clear signage.  We have identified a number of issues within the current library which we will address. The first is an increased awareness of the historic area of the building. As a user currently enters blue area, they have very little awareness of any of the other areas as the routes are concealed or appear minor and do not encourage them to enter. We will open up the courtyard through the removal of Muriel Stott so that users have a clear view of the rest of the building and landmark the entrances to the historic areas through new wall graphics and signage. The next issue to resolve is movement through orange area. Orange area was not originally intended as a through route and certainly not designed as one, but the addition of blue area and the relocation of the library entrance in the early 80’s made it the route to purple and red areas. It has twisting and tight circulation which does not encourage users to venture further. We will create new, double height central and direct circulation routes through orange area and open up adjacent space for study spaces. This will provide views from purple through orange to blue area.

We will also improve understanding of how to move between floors in the building by unifying floor numbering between areas and land marking the stair locations in blue area. We will be removing the escalator as this only serves the first floor and only in one direction and adds to the confusion as you still need to find a stairway to either continue up through the building or return to ground floor.

Q: In what way is the redevelopment sustainable? 

A: At a basic level we aim to provide a solution which is flexible and adaptable, which meets the library’s needs now and into the future and prolonging the period before you need to undertake more disruptive construction works. With regard to energy efficiency, we are targeting a substantial reduction from the current use through the use of natural ventilation where possible and using LED lighting. We will also increase biodiversity in the courtyard through a new landscaping scheme.

Q: What do you foresee as the main challenge in redeveloping Main Library? 

A pre-requisite of the project is continuity of use throughout construction and minimising disruption. This requires a phased construction over three years tied to the academic calendar matching unavoidably disruptive activities to periods of low use.

Artist Impression, Blue Ground
Artist Impression, Blue Ground

Q: Which parts of the redevelopment are you particularly excited to see completed? 

A: The new blue ground floor will transform both the way that the library is perceived and how it will be used. The area in front of the gate line will be substantially enlarged and contain a new café, display area and meeting room attracting more people to enter the library.

Q: Looking back at your career in architecture so far, do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on? 

I couldn’t identify any one particular project as standing out as a favourite, however the most enjoyable stages in each project are right at the beginning where anything is possible and we are on a collective journey of discovery with the client team and at completion enjoying the users reaction to using the new facilities.

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