British Library Final

Stephen Gage

This project proposes a new prototype for the British Library that combines storage for a particular collection with public access and state of the art viewing facilities.  Located in Swindon, the Sound & Media Archive provides storage for the British Library’s collection of over 4 million audio, video, and printed music media, ranging from popular and classical music to wildlife sounds and rare performance recordings.  This facility acts as a potential prototype for a series of regional outposts of the British Library that would specialize in oft-neglected subsets of its vast collection.

The Sound & Media Archive includes performance spaces of all scales, from individual listening booths and practice rooms to a fully equipped theatre, dance club, and informal performance hall that double as community assets in addition to facilitating unprecedented public access to this diverse collection.  Formally, the project is expressed as a big box shed of dense storage which is carved away by individualized performance voids.  Each void possesses its own unique character, allowing for a range of listening/viewing experiences.  A central aisle binds the interior together, creating a processional route weaving through the storage stacks, organized by media type.  Multiple entrances along an exterior public promenade create a vibrant public space that accentuates existing pedestrian routes across the site, connecting downtown Swindon and the train station with the Gorse Hill commercial district.

Materially, the standardized metal aesthetic of the warehouse is contrasted by a rich textural brick that defines the façade and void spaces.  On the outside, the brick forms a lettered screen derived from the existing British Library gate in London.  This screen creates a recognizable identity from afar while modulating light at views at the pedestrian scale.  In the interplay between repetitive storage and highly specific viewing spaces, between clip-on “IKEA” shed and warm human-scaled brick, the project explores the oscillation between the generic and the specific, the intimate and the monumental, oppositions inherent to the uniquely contemporary intersection of large-scale storage with the preservation of cultural heritage.

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