RICHARD HURLEY & ASSOCIATES ARCHITECTS
Glenstal Abbey Library
"Fides querens intellectum"-'Faith seeking knowledge'.
The library should stand for this not only symbolically but also in its day to day activity.
The new library for the Benedictine community at Glenstal Abbey Co. Limerick is the second phase of a significant building programme which includes a new guesthouse and the completion of the Abbey church. These will be linked by a twin level covered access walkway which will give separate monks access from the clioster to both the church and library.
The Benedictine tradition encompasses learning, work and prayer. The building of the new library reflects a long association with scholarship and learning. One of the great Benedictine libraries is at Melk in Austria. The Glenstal library is of course on a much smaller scale, housing one hundred and twenty thousand books, with an expression factor for twenty thousand more. Nevertheless, its presence on the sloping site makes a significant statement, acting as a fulcrum within the monastic complex. A library building is at once both functional and aspirational. Functional in that access to books must be easy and minimise waiting, and aspirational by evoking a sense of learning and scholarship. This idea of books and scholars, coupled with the sense of Benedictine order and human values lay at the heart of the brief. The new library at Glenstal can be best described as a monastic library with access for lay students and scholars. The ground floor has controlled access for visitors, with closed book stack with provision for compact mobile shelving. There is a large archive for special and historic collections, a resource room and study carrels. There is a computerised catalogue, database, internet access and connections to universities and other libraries.
The first floor houses the monastic library - a handbibliothek, unsupervised and private, where books most used by the community are displayed on free standing shelving, accessible to all monks without having to go through the officialdom of borrowing from the library. Staircase access links the two stack areas, indirectly lit from above by a three storey void linking the book stacks. The main space on the first floor is the circular reading room which can also be used for classes and seminars. The basic design for the reading room is simple - a circle. A two story cylindrical drum develops into a clean storey segment admitting light into the drum. This symbolises the meaning of the library and manifests the spirit of the community. The circular plan, which rises off a square base shows its lineage in library design to Sydney Smirks' Reading Room in the British Museum and Gunnar Asplund's Stockholm City Library, but on a much smaller scale and having different inspiration. A feature of the room is the five and a half metres high oak doors, which when opened integrate the entire interlocking space of the building on two floors. The evening sun reaches through the whole building, finally coming to rest in the circular reading room. A very restricted pallet of materials add greatly to the character of the building, particularly the interior, where two materials only, wood and self finished concrete add greatly to the general ambience of books and learning.
The structure is reinforced concrete frame with flat slab construction, and concrete block infill, rendered externally. Service runs are exposed, and the book stacks and archives have thermally controlled ambience.