Shelf awareness

Achieving a balance between design and function required a collaborative approach, explains Andy Duck from Bruynzeel Storage

The University of Greenwich library is the crowning achievement in an £80m redevelopment that has transformed the Stockwell Street area of the town. Designed by Ireland-based architects Heneghan Peng, the building’s exterior has been clad in limestone to blend with the historic architecture nearby, including Hawksmoor’s St Alfege Church and the Old Royal Naval College.

The interior, by contrast, is unashamedly modern, featuring raw concrete walls, integrated technology, exposed ducting and steel balustrades. With a premium placed on the design elements of the build, Adele Brooks, Estate Development Manager for the University, was keen to ensure the finish on the internal fit-out was second to none. Through a rigorous consultation process, the design ambitions of architect and client were constantly weighed against the practical requirements of staff and students.

 “It’s not some ‘starchitect’ building that doesn’t involve the people who are going to use it,” said Brooks. “The architect might want it one way but if it’s not functional for the university, you have to get both sides of the party to understand what we need to achieve, and develop a design that both sides are happy with.”

As a trained architect herself, Brooks decided to take a number of components out of the main contractor’s remit, instead working directly with suppliers and architect. By adopting a traditional contract route, Greenwich gained greater control over the tender process, allowing Brooks and her team the space to develop user-led solutions for the library.

For example, the University’s consultation group insisted on testing samples of shelving in the old library. “For library staff it was really important to get tangible shelving, to try it out themselves and on their students,” said Brooks. Samples from Dutch designer-manufacturer Bruynzeel Storage Systems performed best under test conditions, and the company was duly selected to produce the final display units. Constructed from steel with white table tops, the units break up the space visually, but also work as a practical solution to stock rotation.

“In the old library, new books were just shelved and became part of the stock,” said Ginny Malone, head of library services. “Knowing how popular table-top displays are in a retail setting, we asked Bruynzeel to produce samples. That went down really well, so in every area of the library we now have displays where we can put the new books, arranged by subject area.”

Another issue identified by staff was solved by simple adaptation. “One of the important points was the addition of a plinth to stop students shoving books underneath,” said Malone. “In the old library, it became a great place for hiding a book so no one else could find it. We’d be lying on the floor to look under bookshelves pretty regularly!”

Bruynzeel manufactured and supplied 5km of library shelving to house over 130,000 books.

In addition it supplied mobile shelving for the archive areas, finished in Jacob Jensen-designed end panels.

“The result is just beautiful,” said Brooks. “It has exceeded expectations. For the University of Greenwich, this is a real step forward. But for me, my favourite part is seeing the students using the library, enjoying the spaces and exploiting the facilities they have.”

Andy Duck is a journalist and writer. He is communications and marketing manager for Bruynzeel Storage Systems Ltd –


Pic credit: Paul Ellis

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