At the heart of Oxford’s historic core, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s 1940s, Grade II listed, New Bodleian Library (now known as the Weston Library) is a vital resource for academic research. In 2006, WilkinsonEyre was appointed to refurbish the library as a new cultural and intellectual landmark. The idea was to open up the building to allow more public access and engagement in the activities happening inside. This included the creation of new spaces for a programme of exhibitions and seminars drawing on the extraordinary resources of the Bodleian’s collections.
The design works with, rather than against, Scott’s robust design, reinvigorating the space with an improved circulation diagram – for both book retrieval and user movement – and creating a number of contemporary interventions, including a spectacular reading room at roof level.
Scott’s New Bodleian was never designed as a public building – it was essentially a storage facility, focused entirely on the bookstack and its contents. In 2010 the University opened a new storage facility at South Marston near Swindon and with some of the bookstack space at the New Bodleian freed up, WilkinsonEyre celebrated its heritage by designing voids up through the building that frame the central bookstack volume and bring in controlled daylight.
While the project is strongly focused on improving storage and research facilities inside the building, it also offers an opportunity to boost the library’s relationship with its urban setting by addressing Broad Street and the main Bodleian Library building opposite. The design knits the library more closely into its context by extending the axis created by Radcliffe Camera, Old Schools Quadrangle and Clarendon Building, a logical move to encourage the public inside.