At the heart of the campus of the St. Mary’s Calne School, a private boarding and day school for girls, located in Wiltshire, UK, the Woods Bagot firm designed a new library that will constitute a hub of learning and inspiration for the school’s campus. The facility is merged in harmony with its surroundings through the inclusion of the adjoining apple orchard and the use of pale brick that complements the historic buildings. A rectangular pavilion does duty as the structure over which floats a timber roof shape that makes the library a renowned landmark.

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St. Mary’s Calne School Library_ ©www.architectsjournal.co.uk

Concept and overall Design Philosophy

Debby Ray- principal and project lead at Woods Bagot- delineated how the studio desired to design a space that thoroughly reflects a devotion and passion for learning and teaching, and that -in the fullness of time- becomes a hub of knowledge for the next generations. Correspondingly, the overall idea was to create a space for inspired learning, in which the girls will spend their time in the thick of information whilst being involved in a formative and developmental experience. 

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Concept and plan development sketches_©www.woodsbagot.com

The 660-square-meters building comes into being as an uncomplicated, rectangular pavilion clad in brick, over which a roof made of timber and glass appears to be floating. For the most part, the scale and the addition of exquisite yet singular details to the carving of the library’s shape are congruent to the architectural style of the entire school and intentionally add a modern touch to the project’s composition. Furthermore, the structural design symbolizes the intertwining of trees and books as sources of knowledge and imagination. In point of fact, the Woods Bagot studio made use of its former experience designing libraries to design interior spaces that support several learning activities, namely independent study and working in groups.  

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A brick skin wraps around the library and a timber roof floats over it_©www.architectsjournal.co.uk

The soft buff water-struck brick skin enveloping the north, south, and west façades in a U shape mirrors the limestone that is used in many buildings in the town of Calne, thus making the materials utilized by Woods Baggot Architects complementary to the local context. Besides, small windows emerge in between the bricks, diverting the view from the school service road to the orchard via the glazed eastern facade. To deal with level changes, a notional moat that runs around the edge of the building is bridged at the entrances. 

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The slim windows_©Will Pryce

Planning and Design  

The dynamic and welcoming interior space that Woods Baggot created is divided into specified areas and each story has a distinct purpose. As such wise, the ground floor – which is aimed at group projects- is intended to be a lively space with direct access to the adjacent orchard. In the same manner, the library’s lower level contains an informal area resembling a lounge along with central multi-purpose stairs that can be used as a presentation space. Quite the opposite, the upper level’s design is meant to be more formal to accommodate individual studying. 

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Ground floor plan_©www.woodsbagot.com
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First floor plan_ ©www.woodsbagot.com
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The lounge-like area and multipurpose stairs_© www.dezeen.com

Brick ‘bookends’ provide stair access, storage, small project rooms, and warehouse control systems. Additionally, special attention was given to the optimization of the spaces dedicated to reading and learning. Therefore, traditional book racks were replaced with display zones, study booths, and shelving within the interior walls. Along with that, there are clusters of seats, individual reading pods, a den sunk into the concrete foundations under the staircase, and places for relaxation making the reading and browsing times serene. 

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Shelving system and study booths_ © www.dezeen.com

The difference between the ground floor – with its neat baffles, service trays, and strip lights- and the first floor is highlighted by the use of soffit treatments. The upper level has a frameless clerestory window around the edge that makes it seem as if the entire floor was looking up and out below its timber canopy. Likewise, the presence of the orchard and the sky considerately place the lining of the books into perspective. Even though the library is an academic building, the strategies and details that Woods Baggot carefully incorporated within the first floor’s design will incentivize dreams and imagination while encouraging research. 

The north-eastern façade’s full height windows and glazing restrict the intrusion of direct sunlight while lighting -at night time- a new passage from the library towards the gardens. In certain areas, projecting bricks are layered alternately, making the façade more interesting. There are also windows cutting down the facade where the void of the book-lined library changes into the hardworking bookends of cellular spaces and escape stairs. In reverse, the interior space is flooded with daylight by the extensive glazing on the building’s northeast side, which also increases the interconnection between the interior and the rest of the campus. 

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Façade projection_©www.woodsbagot.com

Structure and Materials 

Woods Baggot architects explained that the structural design draws direct inspiration from the orchard’s fruit trees. In this regard, the structural beams are connected to the undulating underside of the timber roof as if it was supported by branches. By the same token, a metal detail is incorporated within the façade to extend the trees’ vertical elements. Moreover, the ‘floating roof’ effect – for which the library is distinguished- is achieved through clerestory glazing. In point of fact, it is an array of steel trusses attached to large columns analogous to tree trunks that supports the wooden canopy. 

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Exploded axonometry detailing the structural elements_©www.woodsbagot.com
The tree-like structure sketch_©www.woodsbagot.com

References:

  1. Williams, F. and Williams, F., 2022. Woods Bagot completes library with ‘floating’ timber roof for Wiltshire school. [online] The Architects’ Journal. Available at: <https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/buildings/woods-bagot-completes-library-with-floating-timber-roof-for-wiltshire-school> 
  2. Woods Bagot. 2022. St. Mary’s Calne School Library | Woods Bagot. [online] Available at: <https://www.woodsbagot.com/projects/st-mary-s-calne-school-library/>
  3. Archello. 2022. St Mary’s Calne School Library | Woods Bagot | Archello. [online] Available at: <https://archello.com/project/st-marys-calne-school-library>
  4. Ribaj. 2021. Woods Bagot branches out with school library. [online] Available at: <https://www.ribaj.com/buildings/woods-bagot-st-mary-s-calne-school-library-orchard> 
  5. Dezeen. 2021. Woods Bagot tops school library with “tree-like” timber ceiling. [online] Available at: <https://www.dezeen.com/2021/02/27/st-marys-calne-school-library-woods-bagot/> 
Author

Najlaa believes that writing, art, and architecture enunciate one’s inner voice. Through a process of research carried out with scrupulous attention to detail, she seeks to ease curiosity with a pen, and tame the incessant questions of Why and How.

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