“Twenty years ago, people were predicting the demise of libraries. This (State Library Victoria) library has never been busier. It’s a really exciting time to think through what a library should and could be in the 21st century.” – Kate Torney, CEO of State Library Victoria, in 2019.

State Library Victoria by Perkins and Will - Sheet1
_View of State Library Victoria_©Andrew Latreille

Bridging the Past and the Future | State Library Victoria

There’s something very symbolic about libraries – the need for knowledge, the strife to learn with other like-minded people – in solidarity and silence. In the 21st century, access to smartphones and short memory spans have isolated the newer gen. However, Perkins and Will have revolutionized libraries as public spaces by making them for the existing community while also being inclusive to the future wave of new users.

State Library Victoria by Perkins and Will - Sheet2
The Public Library-1870-1889_©Monash University

Flipping Through History

The State Library Victoria (SLV) in Melbourne, Australia (previously called People’s Library) was established in 1856. It’s Australia’s oldest public library and one of the first few free public libraries. It was designed by Architect Joseph Reed after he won the competition to do so in 1853. It was designed in a Neo-Classical style adorned with dramatic columns, grand scale volumes, and intricate detailing. While Perkins and Will did not mimic the style piece to piece, their additions complemented the old structure beautifully. 

State Library Victoria by Perkins and Will - Sheet3
SLV diagram by Perkins and Will_©https://perkinswill.com/

Integrating the Old and the New | State Library Victoria

The State Library Victoria encompasses 23 buildings overall and occupies an entire city block in the centre of Melbourne. In 2015, the library implemented a five-year redevelopment project – Vision 2020. Perkins and Wills undertook the redevelopment in partnership with Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects. The redevelopment cost about 88 million dollars and focused on a concept to enhance the space at maximum capacity. The library attracts millions of people every year, and the goal of Perkins and Wills was “Revitalizing the existing spaces of the library in order to unlock possibilities, create connections, and provide a framework for the library’s ongoing and future evolution.” To elevate the library by bringing it into the future without isolating its loyal users.                     

State Library Victoria by Perkins and Will - Sheet4
The State Library Victoria_©https://perkinswill.com/
State Library Victoria by Perkins and Will - Sheet5
The Victoria Gallery_©https://perkinswill.com/

Perkins and Will

Perkins and Will are known for their extensive library designs globally in their portfolio. Perkins and Will’s main vision for the State Library Victoria was to enhance the user experience. This meant bringing in the latest technology to the library and implementing seamlessly along with the present heritage of the building and culture of the space.

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The State Library Victoria, Central Core_©https://perkinswill.com/


During the design process, Perkins and Will had a series of co-creation workshops to engage the users directly in the library’s redevelopment. Input and feedback was taken from children, teens, and their families to design for the future and the growing next generation. Perkins and Will had the concept of putting the users at the center, providing an open, accessible, and welcoming experience for all ages and cultural backgrounds– keeping in mind that the library designed in 1856 couldn’t fathom the population growth or how different society now looked.

The library was now serviced by two new additional entrances – a universally accessible entrance on La Trobe Street and the historic Russell Street entrance that was closed for more than a decade.

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Russell Street Entrance_©https://perkinswill.com/

Elif Tinaztepe from Perkins and Will said that the firms’ work was deeply contextual, so studying Melbourne’s heritage, history, and cultural landscape was of the utmost importance in designing the space. Perkins and Will’s aim with State Library Victoria was to ensure that the heritage spaces stand out in their glory and beauty while Perkins and Will create strong contemporary design lines to help move the institution to the future. 

Perkins and Will’s principle was to respect the authenticity of the spaces and existing design elements. Perkins and Will’s design focused on revealing inaccessible spaces and allowing the visitors to move and explore the library. The goal was to keep the library’s position as an ultimate memory institution and its role as custodian of the past and curator of the future. With Perkins and Will’s new facilities, it would now begin to act as a hub for the new creation of knowledge for generations to come. 

The State Library Victoria_©https://perkinswill.com/
The State Library Victoria_©https://perkinswill.com/

Redevelopment | State Library Victoria

Vision 2020- the five-year redevelopment focused on The Ian Potter Queen’s Hall, The Victoria Gallery, The Russell Street Entrance, the Isabella Fraser Room, and the Quad, which connects all four of the library’s new activity courtyards.

Perkins and Will’s sought to increase their public space by 40 percent, and the need for large public spaces in a rapidly growing urban environment was captured perfectly by them. Even before the redevelopment, the large open spaces in front of the library were bustling with people, to capitalize that into the library was perceptive of Perkins and Will, it was a prediction of people’s movement that worked out in their favor along with the increase of seating by nearly 70 percent, solidified the State Library as a must-see landmark. The seating needed to be increased as according to Kate Torney – people used to be here sitting on the floor studying, and charging phones there was a need to think about the wants and requirements of visitors during the redevelopment and reimagine the space to accommodate those needs.

Redeveloped McArthur and Swinburne Galleries__©https://perkinswill.com/
Redeveloped McArthur and Swinburne Galleries__©https://perkinswill.com/

The new Hansen Hall was on the ground floor. It was painted in lighter tones and lighter wood flooring and was filled with natural light. It was a collaborative space for visitors- a feature that might not have held significant importance before the 2000s in a library but as we’ve come to know is an indispensable custom in public spaces now – Perkins and Will foresaw this need for collaborative and interactive spaces. The Hansen Hall then branched off into four quarters.

The State Library Victoria_©https://perkinswill.com/
The State Library Victoria_©https://perkinswill.com/
The Ian Potter Hall_©Patrick-Rodriguez via https://www.australiandesignreview.com/
The Ian Potter Hall_©Patrick-Rodriguez via https://www.australiandesignreview.com/

The Ian Potter Queen’s Hall was one of the breath-taking areas of the library and after 16 years (Since 2003) of closure, it was finally being reopened to the public. Perkins and Will worked in consultation with Heritage Victoria and under the guidance of  Andronas Conservation Architecture to make this possible. Perkins and Will also uncovered some of the library’s original flooring which was then incorporated into the main design.

The modern additions to the Hall were deliberately black – the table, the staircase, the lighting, and even the balustrade. This was done so visitors can immediately distinguish the new from the original. The design team left the original paint scheme untouched but preserved it. This made sure the design was celebrated and not replicated. The adjacent Victoria Gallery is a 500-square-meter exhibition space that offers an immersive and interactive experience for visitors- the original goal set out by Perkins and Will. This includes elements that move together and pieces that are fixed that work together in aesthetic harmony, tying the project together.

The Ian Potter Hall__©https://perkinswill.com/
The Ian Potter Hall__©https://perkinswill.com/


Architecture is poetry between people and buildings. An integrated story of a balance between the two along with nature, achieved by focusing on local context. Perkins and Will, have successfully achieved this balance and curated a piece of history magnificently. 


State Victoria Library (2019). State Library Victoria unveils ‘jewel in Library’s crown’. [online]. Available at: https://www.slv.vic.gov.au/interact-with-us/media-centre/state-library-victoria-unveils-%E2%80%98jewel-library%E2%80%99s-crown%E2%80%99 [Accessed date: 14 October 2022].

Australian Design Review (2019). Victoria’s State Library reopens, and it’s a study in restoration over replication. [online].Available at: https://www.australiandesignreview.com/architecture/victorias-state-library-reopens-and-its-a-study-in-restoration-over-replication/ [Accessed date: 14 October 2022].

Elif Tinaztepe /Perkswill.com. State Library Victoria, Melbourne, Australia. [online]. Available at: URL: https://perkinswill.com/project/state-library-victoria-australia/  [Accessed date: 14 October 2022].

Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions . (2019). State Library Victoria reopens after five-year revamp. [YouTube video]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IU2tru95tlA URL. [Accessed: 14 October 2022].


Jaya is a whimsical old soul. She’s passionate about architecture journalism - an amalgamation of the two things she loves most - designing and writing. She loves all forms of art, literature and mythologies from any corner of the world and from any period in time- the older the better.