WHEN I LEFT a full-time job to go freelance several years ago, I began working from my local public library. Every weekday morning, I would queue outside Surry Hills Library on bustling Crown Street in Sydney. At precisely 10am I joined the stream of gig-economy workers coursing through the doors beneath a green wall of plants and a spectacular atrium made up of a series of glass prisms. But admiring the architecture of the Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp-designed building wasn’t my priority: my mission was to secure one of the precious powerpoints at the street-side desks with views onto the adjacent park, for which demand far exceeded supply.
“People today are not just reading books in [libraries], but running businesses, creating products, making music and holding meetings,” says Stewart Architecture director Felicity Stewart, whose firm designed Sydney’s Green Square Library in association with Stewart Hollenstein.
“In an increasingly secular society, the library is replacing the church as a community gathering space that offers a non-commercial alternative to other places such as shopping malls,” she adds. “In a library you can be a citizen, be a creator and be social without having to be a customer.”
Libraries today are hot property. Far from dusty, they are edgy and conceptual spaces attracting top design talent and technology, with amenities ranging from rooftop gardens and communal kitchens to recording studios and 3D printers. As the trend to small-space living continues apace, libraries have become crucial Third Spaces that offer world-class facilities designed to foster connection and community in an increasingly isolated and fragmented society.
“Libraries have become urban living rooms,” says City of Sydney deputy lord mayor Jess Scully. “They are now designed to accommodate a much stronger social offering beyond simply a space to sit and read or study, and they need to be flexible enough for multiple uses and multiple age groups.”
When Green Square Library opened in 2018, it included an open air amphitheatre, a subterranean garden, a music room with a baby grand piano, a computer lab and a six-storey glass tower – a beacon for the 50,000 residents of one of Sydney’s fastest-growing urban areas.
“Green Square presented an opportunity to carve out an entire new town centre and putting the library at the heart of it provided a setting to ask designers to rethink what a library could be in the most open and exciting way,” says Felicity.
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