Wright & Wright Architects have this week unveiled designs for a new building to house the internationally renowned Lambeth Palace Library. The practice was awarded the commission to design the new complex following a highly competitive design competition in 2015.
Lambeth Palace is sited on the south bank of the River Thames opposite Parliament and has been a historic London residence of Archbishops of Canterbury since the 13th century. The existing library is split across several buildings and houses the second-largest religious collection in Europe after the Vatican. Items in the collection date from the 9th century and reflect connections between the state and the church, whilst also serving as the main archive for the Church of England.
The new library is intended to be built in the grounds of the north end of Lambeth Palace gardens, the historic Grade 1 listed London residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury and home to the library since its foundation. This location will provide the right balance between the need to provide for the collection (with independent access and within easy reach of transport routes) and the historic and integral link to the existing Palace. Clad in red clay brick, the design will pay homage to the surrounding historical Palace buildings. The building takes the form of an occupied wall which rises to a compact eight storey tower. The archives are elevated about any potential flooding and the building forms a bulwark, which screens this part of the garden from pollution and traffic noise, whilst also enclosing a pond. Thus the ecology of the garden will be greatly enhanced. At the top of the library tower, a multi-functional public viewing space is created, allowing direct views across the river Thames to the Palace of Westminster, reinforcing the historic connection between church and state.
Inside the building the public reading room is naturally lit, through a filigree screen of trees and has tranquil views across the historic gardens. Facilities will include state of the art archival systems that will allow ongoing conservation and storage of this unique collection of archives.
Clare Wright, architect Wright & Wright, said: “this commission is ‘such stuff as dreams are made on’. We are deeply honoured to have been selected and count ourselves exceptionally fortunate.”
The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury said: “the plans for the new Lambeth Palace Library are exciting. They enable us to preserve this important national collection while increasing accessibility, within a building that is a fitting architectural addition to the grounds and surrounding area.”
Rowan Moore, Architecture Critic and judging panel member said: “Wright and Wright’s approach shows a high degree of sensitivity to the Library’s precious contents and location, while also giving it a confident new public expression.”
The Church Commission has commissioned the new purpose-built library to ensure the archive could be preserved for future generations. Plans for the Palace’s new Library will accommodate the important national collection whilst increasing accessibility, within a building that is a fitting architectural addition. Following the public consultation, planning is scheduled to be submitted in December 2016 and the building works to be completed by the end of 2020.
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