Planning permission for the state-of-the-art library was granted in 2020, following extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders including staff, students, local residents and neighbours, the wider community, and Bristol City Council.
The approved design was jointly developed by architecture studio Hawkins/Brown, Danish practice Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects and British engineering firm BuroHappold. The collaborative team was selected following an international competition in 2017.
The new library is part of a wider programme of improvements, begun in 2018, which aim to transform and revitalise the university’s main Clifton campus.
The landmark library building, on a hilltop at the centre of the campus, will house the university’s world-class collections and provide high-quality space for a population of more than 27,000 researchers and students. Ranked as one of the top ten universities in the UK, Bristol has a reputation for cutting-edge research and is the fourth most-targeted university by top UK employers.
The architects explained how the new library’s “dynamic” stepped design, rising from three storeys to seven, “negotiates a change in scale from the Victorian villas of neighbouring residential streets, to the civic and institutional buildings of the campus”.
Large picture windows will provide those inside with views across the city, and those outside the building will be able to see the activity within. Vertical fins over the windows are described as “a contemporary nod to Bristol’s extensive collection of landmark buildings in the perpendicular gothic style”.
The new library is designed to forge stronger links with the city’s communities. Whilst the upper floors will be used by staff and students, the ground floor will be open to the public and offer access to exhibition galleries, events spaces, a programme of new public art commissions and a café.
Outside a new pedestrianised civic square, between the library and refurbished Senate House, will provide “a welcoming sense of arrival” and better connect the area with Royal Fort Gardens. New road layouts aim to improve public transport and traffic flow, enhance pedestrian and cycling routes, and make the whole area enjoyable, safer and accessible for everyone.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost at the University of Bristol, Professor Judith Squires, said the new library would support the learning and research of future generations:
“It will also be a new cultural destination for the city of Bristol, with a museum-style café, exhibition galleries, reading rooms to explore archival and museum collections, and programmed event spaces. The new University Library will sit in a new City Square, providing a welcoming and inspiring public realm for the whole city.”