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Manchester Central Library refurbishment: My opinion

Manchester Central Library is my library. In the 'Central Ref' I studied for my A Levels, wrote articles and books, met friends and contacts, had a photo exhibition, researched websites and lots more. I feel I own it. Thousands of others feel the same way. Now it has closed and will undergo a major renovation. This for me this is traumatic. It's like having a major refurbishment job done on your house, supervised by someone from the council. Read my thoughts on the upcoming refurbishment of the Central Library.

Central Library, Town Hall Extension and St Peters Square
Central Library, Town Hall Extension and St Peters Square

I don't need to go into the details about what's going to happen to the library and the three year time scale. That information is available elsewhere.

At the exhibition in Manchester Town Hall Extension on Friday 9 July, I looked at the plans and spoke to Ian Kennedy from Ryder Architects.

First I'll outline the design points I see as the most striking.

Then I'll give my verdict. I will keep it short.

The main hall will be restored to its 1934 state.
This is fantastic. I have studied old photos of the library, and admired its spartan interior. The furniture will be restored, the central desk and ornate clock will appear the same as they did to King George V.

There will be a new open floor at entrance hall level.
This is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the plan. In order to create this floor, the stacks under the main hall will be removed. It's true the stack floors are a unique feature, but they were not open for public use, and if I understood Ian Kennedy correctly, they were an added feature, and not part of the structure.

There will be a new area to the right of the entrance for for lifts and stairs.
The old 'suicide' staircases, a real period piece in my opinion, will be removed. I was fond of those stairs though scared by the view from ceiling to basement. But access is today of paramount importance. Times have changed since the 1930s, and especially so during recent years.

Meeting rooms on the upper floors will be restored to their 1934 condition.
This again is good news. My definition of a proper restoration is if you could film a historical drama there, and I think this will be possible. Maybe Hercule Poirot could make a long overdue visit.

The exterior will not undergo much renovation.
I was surprised at this, as the grime has certainly left its mark since the cleaning of around 10 years ago. From the exterior the building will look virtually unchanged. And contrary to a rumour I heard, there will be no hideous glass canopy over Library Walk.

There will be a subterranean floor linking to the Town Hall Extension.
This sounds great. On this floor, there will be a new city library. You'll be able to wander around new spaces created from areas that for decades have remained hidden.

There's a lot more I could say but here are the main points, as I see them:

Much of the building will be stripped out and made open plan. Floors will be removed, the shell of the building will be revealed.

Certain historic features, including the hall and rooms will be restored to their original 1934 state.

The building will be made fully accessible to comply with current laws and lifestyles.

My verdict
I can't help feeling sorry that the stacks will be ripped out. And I had a fondness for those echoey, atmospheric staircases. But the building has to be adapted to the reality of present and future times, or it can no longer continue as a public library. This plan appears to preserve the best of the original building, whilst adding striking new features as well as necessary services and access arrangements in compliance with today's standards.

The Central Library is my favourite building in Manchester. I look forward to seeing it transformed when it reopens in 2013.

But I will always retain fond memories of how it was in my schooldays and up till 2010.

Jonathan Schofield's view of the Central Library Refurbishment.

Details of the plans on e-architect.co.uk

Manchester Central Library and new tram 4 June 2010
Manchester Central Library and new tram 4 June 2010

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2010-07-14

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