This new community library in Ward One, Olifantsfontein is serves a low income community, providing much needed access to books and information, study space and meeting space for community groups. There was an existing library on the site in a converted house that did not meet the community’s needs – the old house was retained but the library function moved into a new purpose built building.
Conceptually the library was designed as a grid of tree-like columns holding up a ‘canopy’ that created protection below from the elements. This referenced the original blue gum trees on site, which had to be removed due to dolomitic site condition restricting the placement of the new building. The original intention was to re-use the trees as columns but the original contractor chopped them up! The columns are now steel but with the original ‘branches’ at the top to hold up the roof. The roof structure and ceiling are made of timber again in reference to the forest canopy. High level glass allows the roof to float above the walls below, the walls creating enclosure and differentiating the spaces. Deep over hangs shield these windows thus allowing indirect light and not heat into the space.
The main point of entry is through the foyer which is a covered, outdoor/indoor space; the foyer also doubles up as an exhibition space and the connector between the different functions. The orientation of the building on the site allows the study and activities halls to get north light and warmth whilst the administration block shields the main body of the library from direct north light. The children's section of the library space gets north light via the “glass wall” on the north – this area generally has small reading areas with low kids tables and bean bags. The lending counter occupies a central position thus enabling visibility of all spaces by one person, often the lone librarian. The large study area and activities hall can be accessed separately from the library and so can be used after hours.
The scale of the building is such that it has a presence in the community without overshadowing the neighboring buildings. The end result is an inviting, easily accessible building that instills a sense of civic pride in the community and has set a standard for future development in the area.