Designing the Library - by Hans Hallen, Architect

Fine libraries, art galleries and museums convey a sense of age and authority. Private collections built up over time by a single individual also develop a unique character. The design for the new Brenthurst Library building sought to reflect these truths. Forms and materials have been chosen deliberately to provide classical or neo-classical allusions, at the same time indicating that the library's owner and guiding spirit belongs to modern Africa.

Thus, the centre of the building is a reception area the cross-vaulting of which echoes Roman and Romanesque crypts. Set into the domed roof are four large circular windows filled, not with glass, but with pink. translucent marble. The roof is supported on four pillars; short passages run through each of them like cloisters. The main entrance is through one of the pillars; its sculptured door, designed and cast in aluminium by Andrew Verster, is a clear reference to those seen guarding Italian baptisteries. Marble is used extensively - as exterior cladding, between brick courses, and as a flooring material- while water and sculpture are brought into Renaissance-like combination, an allusion confirmed by the apse that visitors see before entering the building.

Other materials, however, declare the building to be in South Africa and of the twentieth century. The sills of the dome's circular windows are lined with gold leaf. Wide use is made of red and black Transvaal granite, both polished and rough. Brick and travertine facades are inset with stainless steel columns. The free-standing sculpture by Edoardo Villa that towers over the shallow lake beside the forecourt is in black steel.

Published in Optima, vol.32, no.2, 1984, p. 82