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Ussher Library, TCD

  • Architect:
    McCullough Mulvin Architects / KMD Architecture
  • Award Type:
    Regional Award 2003
  • Location: Dublin
Ussher Library, TCD


Dublin Over €3,000,000

In this gathering of several great libraries,the feature that most strikes the eye of the observer is the parkland juxtaposition of the transparency of the crystalline Ussher Library with the opacity of its older ‘twin ’,the Berkeley -giving a totally new look to the entire complex,particularly when Trinity scholars burn the midnight oil.White granite,grey concrete,green glass,dark wood and deep red carpets combine to elevate the tone of the work from the merely educational towards the civic.

Architect ’s Comment
The new Ussher Library in Trinity College is a landmark building for Dublin.The project – initiated as an international architectural competition provides 750 undergraduate reader places and space for 350,000 volumes in a state-of-the-art library building with exposed board marked concrete and granite finishes.The concept establishes three prismatic sculptural blocks on a podium set North-South across the site;the two longer blocks are connected by an atrium.

The taller is closed and stone-clad and dedicated to book storage (a tower of books),the other,lower,more dynamically shaped in stone and glass contains reading rooms with views over College Park;the third block is for a Book Conservation Laboratory.Each book is reserved by a core at one end which anchors the plan;each is designed as a solid planar element without advance or recession the line of stone cladding is carried through into the atrium in timber paneling;the atrium glazing is perceived as a separate shard like element,while the Conservation Block roof is an origami-like folded plane of glass and metal.

The new building forms a functional unit with the existing Berkeley and Lecky libraries-all three are connected under podium level and the Berkley Library has been retained as the main entrance to the whole complex-a new staircase descends from it to a new orientation space serving all three.The new library had to fit into a very strong urban context,standing on an edge condition between Trinity and Dublin;it keeps to grid of the College buildings while recognising the line of Nassau Street.

The building is like a gateway – three books forming open space between them which frame views and routes form the city into the College.By its shape and location on the site,the project establishes two strongly configured urban spaces at podium level – one against the rere of the Berkley, open at the corners in the Trinity manner,with generous steps from the Park and Library square – the other between the new Library and the street-which will serve as a public and tourist access to the college.

Client's Comment
The Brief for the architectural competition was complex due to the requirement to integrate with two existing Library buildings,the context of architecture within Trinity College,the varied roles that the Library undertakes and the need to provide for a dynamic feature information environment.The main functional requirements of the new library included 750 additional reader spaces,space for 350,000 additional volumes on open access,the integration of new technologies with printed materials and a single point of focus for services.Later additions to the brief included the Map Library – the largest in the country,,and the Conservation Department whose work is so important to the preservation of the Library ’s manuscripts and early printed treasures.

Trevor Peare,Ussher Library Project Officer tells how ‘It was fascination to see the architects turn the brief into reality and in spite of restrictions imposed by the site, provide some magnificent spaces for both our readers and for staff.’

The building was opened to for use in April 2002,in order for work on the Berkeley Library phase to get under way and I was delighted that the students immediately opted to use the Ussher as their preferred revision environment.

The demands on academic libraries in the 21st century are complex,sophisticated and changing as we will provide resources for learning and research in variety of formats and as the quality of resources our users require becomes more critical.When drawing up our brief we presented the architects with a considerable challenge to provide a flexible and stimulating study environment enabling our readers to work with a variety of information formats,while retaining the best of traditional values.

While we cannot predict all the changes in research and learning and their effects on the role of libraries and information centers over the next decades,all the signs so far indicate that the building will succeed in delivering on these challenges.