University of Bristol Library: Architects’ statement

Hawkins/Brown, Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects and BuroHappold team up for new library at the University of Bristol

Located on a hilltop with views across Bristol, the proposed new University Library is an ambitious new building that will create a new landmark at the centre of the University of Bristol’s Clifton Campus, at the corner of Elton Road and Woodland Road.

In addition to providing a new home for the University’s world class collections and high quality space for researchers and students, the new University Library will open up new ways for the University to engage with the city and its communities by delivering an exciting spectrum of social, cultural and academic engagement activities in purpose-built facilities.

The project has been designed by a collaborative team formed by architecture studio Hawkins\Brown, Danish practice Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects and British engineering firm BuroHappold, which was selected following an international competition in 2017.

The team’s response to the brief responds to the local architectural context and has been developed following an extensive consultation with the University and a wide range of stakeholder groups including staff, students, local residents and neighbours, the wider community, and Bristol City Council.

The publicly accessible ground floor will be a welcoming, permeable space hosting events and exhibitions that will link the communities of the University with the wider city. The setting and accessibility of the building will be enhanced by a wider redesign of the surrounding street layout and public realm, which will establish the building as a gateway to the University precinct.

The proposed library building has a dynamic, stepping form that rises from three to seven storeys to negotiate a change in scale from the Victorian villas of neighbouring residential streets, to the civic and institutional buildings of the campus such as University’s Senate House.

Large scale picture windows are arranged in a regular rhythm across the façade, expanding and contracting to reveal and animate the internal activity of the building as well as provide views across the surrounding townscape and city centre to the south. The building will be clad with natural limestone, arranged with a vertical emphasis that pairs with vertical fins over the windows to provide a contemporary nod to Bristol’s extensive collection of landmark buildings in the perpendicular gothic style.

Enhancements will also be made to the surrounding public realm including a new pedestrianised civic square between the NUL and refurbished Senate House, providing a welcoming sense of arrival and better connecting the area with Royal Fort Gardens. The proposed new road layouts will improve public transport and traffic flow, enhance pedestrian and cycling routes in line with the Council’s emerging policies, and make the whole area enjoyable, safer and accessible for everyone. In accordance with the University’s requirement for a high standard of sustainability, the library is being designed to achieve a BREEAM “Excellent” rating.

Adam Cossey, Partner at Hawkins\Brown, said:

“This inspirational new landmark for Bristol will provide world-class facilities in an inclusive and welcoming environment. The new library building has the potential to transform the relationship between the University of Bristol and the wider city, extending a welcome to the public and acting as a gateway to the revitalised Clifton Campus.”

Kasper Frandsen, Partner at Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects said:

“While we set out to create a contemporary design that echoes a sense of civic dignity imbued with timeless sculptural qualities, the new library is also deeply contextual and deliberately responsive to the historical environment of Bristol.”

“Having worked closely with the University’s stakeholders, the library provides archive space for priceless physical collections while offering a social platform for study, exchange of ideas, and meetings between people.”

Matthew Smith, Partner at Buro Happold said:

“The building will act as a new civic heart to the Campus and provide a much-needed space to promote interaction between students, staff and the wider public. Importantly the building will meet high sustainability standards with a focus on natural light, a high level of energy efficiency, low environmental impact, and will promote positive mental wellbeing for all the building users. The overall building energy strategy complements the University’s drive to become carbon neutral by 2030.”