Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Wren's Library, Cambridge

When walking around potential design/building sites in Cambridge, we took a detour to Wren's Library.

No photos were allowed in the library itself, so the internal images are taken from the University website

The first thing I noticed when approaching the building was that the entire ground floor seemed to have no purpose to it - giant stone columns support the library on the first floor above.

An enquiry and I found out that at the time Wren designed it, the neighbouring River Cam was much more likely to flood, as the Fens had not been properly drained so water levels would often do damage to nearby buildings. To prevent damage to the collection of books, Wren raised the library up a level, and designed a number of large windows to let as much natural light in as possible, which even on a cloudy day when I was there, let in a comfortable amount of light to see my way around.

With all the beautiful views out to the river and nearby university buildings, it seemed strange that Wren would design the windows so high up, so nobody could see out of the building. This could be to prevent damage to the priceless books, that now seem to be a tourist attraction, as the university has a much larger, purpose built library on another site. 

It was interesting to hear about the modernisation of the library. Although completed in 1695, staff were working on computers, and I saw lamps on the desks. Students need to book appointments to visit and read in the library, and all of the books have been scanned so hopefully they will last another 300+ years. Wren designed all the furniture, but additional tables have been made to his specification, and these house the celebrated books. The bookcases that were intentionally left empty in 1695 to house future books have all been filled, and the tourist and student entrance is at opposite ends of the room. 

The location of the windows, the flood-proofing and the attention to detail should all help me when designing my library in the city.