Bill Bryson Library, Durham University

Location Durham, UK
Services Building services, civil, structural, fire and geotechnical engineering, sustainable design, BREEAM assessment, lighting design and transportation
Sector Education 
Client Durham University
Architect _space
Imagery © Kristen McCluskie


The redevelopment of the university’s main library was part of the major redevelopment of Durham University’s Stockton Road Campus. The project involved the demolition of the existing library’s east wing, to allow for the new extension, and partial refurbishment of the existing library. The project was split into three phases to allow the library to remain open, minimising disruption to students.

BIM software was utilised to improve collaboration and integration with _space. This technology was used throughout the design process to ensure coordinated architectural, structural and building services designs. The models were merged on a regular basis to check for coordination issues, including running clash detection analyses.

The site had a number of challenges, including: three mineshafts, relocation of two electricity substations, and major services and drainage diversions required. The chosen foundation solution was CFA piles taken down to rockhead at 10m depth, which avoided increased loading on the shaft walls. Ground beams bridged the mineshaft caps where pile locations were dictated by the shaft locations.

The South façade of the library is fully glazed, with full height precast concrete columns supporting a curved, cantilevered staircase rising through three upper floors. The curtain walling is triple glazed construction to minimise heat loss and shaded in summer via external louvres to control solar gains while also providing excellent daylight into the building.

To maximise ceiling heights in the open library areas services have been provided via suspended integrated service beams which incorporate heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting and fire detection. This allowed the concrete soffits’ to be exposed to increase the thermal mass of the building and moderate the internal heating and cooling requirements.

A reinforced concrete flat slab solution was chosen as an 8.4m x 6.4m grid and incorporated the following sustainable elements:

  • Use of precast concrete shutter panels, left exposed in the final building, to provide high quality soffits 
  • Use of precast concrete in all columns and walls to provide high quality exposed finish and reduced material wastage
  • Use of polystyrene void formers to reduce slab weight/concrete volume by 15%, reducing foundation loads and less materials use
  • Use of cement replacement in all in-situ concrete

We based the fire strategy for the buildings on the recommendations detailed in BS 9999, which allows risk-based design solutions to be used to address the particular needs of the building’s occupants. This approach provides an extremely cost-effective way in meeting the stringent fire safety requirements of the client, as well as demonstrating compliance with relevant statutory requirements. 

External lighting took into consideration Durham City’s light and Dark strategy, as the library is located behind the cathedral the external lighting needed to be functional and controlled and the façade itself was not to be illuminated such that it dominated the view of the cathedral. Internally, spaces are divided by their function and the lighting design respects the individual areas and the tasks being undertaken in those areas. For example, books spaces were well illuminated whilst casual areas had informal relaxed lighting. The overall effect is one where the architecture and detail of the space dominates. 

Please click here for further information regarding the architectural lighting design.

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Established in the UK 40 years ago, Cundall has developed into an international multi-disciplinary consultancy operating from over 20 locations across the globe.