Design of the new Library - by Hans Hallen, Architect

Written for the opening of The Brenthurst Library in February 1984

Creating a sense of space using the vaulted formAny architectural design must have a dominant idea if it is to meet requirements more demanding than those of function and correct siting. What is required is to find the essence of the subject itself.

In private collections assembled over many years there is a blend of purpose and serendipity that is not found in public collections. This quality and the idea that old books, manuscripts, drawings and paintings are a store of knowledge and memory in the form of paper, inks and leather, are clues to finding a concept that is to be expressed in bricks and mortar. A vital element in the architecture of the finest of the world's libraries, galleries and museums is this richness of association inherent in the collections which these buildings house. The concept of the design of the new library at Brenthurst is based essentially on the idea that the building is a series of treasuries.

The focus of the design is the cross-vaulted form of the main reading room which is the main reception space and public area. In its size and form it dominates the southern wing of offices and the book-shelf areas and main service rooms housed in the northern wing.

The Entrance View: An early sketchOn either side of the reading room are two treasuries: the cube-like manuscript store and the semi-circular gallery. These three forms stand in a dynamic relationship with each other and provide a rich and constantly changing vista from every vantage point. From the freeway only the tops of these forms can be seen through the trees and over the newly created and planted earth banks. close at hand, buildings of different shapes have been positioned to create a series of external spaces of varying sizes and proportions. The largest of these is the entrance forecourt which is visible from the property's entrance gates and from the east, across the long lawn - the only long view possible on the site.

The entrance to the building is from the forecourt and leads directly into the reading room. It is a place of reception, meeting, entertainment and display that opens to the various treasuries and the storage, display and working spaces. It is the most open of the rooms. The four bays or apses have different views of the garden: looking east, there is the long prospect over the forecourt and gardens and art gallery reached by passing over a glass-enclosed bridge; the opposite direction affords a shorter perspective that includes the manuscript room that is approached by a short enclosed passage. The south apse contains The Bridge, a free-standing Leonard French mural. Opening into the book-shelf area is the north apse, where a number of oil paintings by Thomas Baines are displayed above the bookshelves.

Each corner of the main roof is supported on large red granite-faced piers which also serve as access-ways and entrances. One of these portals leads directly to the small meeting room and private reading room. Both rooms offer new sights beyond the gallery and across the reflecting pool to the gardens in the distance.

The gallery is a place for displaying and storing artworks, and may be used as a meeting place for up to thirty people. The single east window looks out on to the forecourt, to the standing figure by Eduardo Villa and then to the gardens. The ceremonial doors, cast in aluminium, and designed by Andrew Verster, open on to a small platform upon which works of sculpture may be displayed.

Internal and external materials have been chosen for their sense of permanence - they are intended to be both ancient and modern. The brick and marble have a similarity in colour to early buildings in the Transvaal, while in the coursed layers there is a hint of early Renaissance Florence. Contemporary materials such as stainless steel and cast aluminium set off the marble and brick, with the red Transvaal granite giving added presence and weight to the portals that support the main roof.

There are hints in the design of the classical Grecian treasuries at Delphi and Delos, the ceiling vaults of Roman and Romanesque crypta, and the early work of Sir Herbert Baker in the Transvaal. But the building is none of these: The Brenthurst Library, though rich in allusion and association, is a building of our own times, designed for a unique occasion.

Written for the opening of The Brenthurst Library in February 1984