Canberra Library/Studio

A couple required an artist’s studio and personal library (consisting of some 17,000 volumes) on their rural site, located approximately 20km north-east of Canberra. The sloping site sits within a small valley, its northernmost boundary defined by the Molonglo River which flows from a flood plain to the east, widening into a pool at the north-west corner of the site. The valley and pool provide two key reference points: the valley gesturing toward an expansive, limitless space that welcomes the morning sun, while the pool defines something of a punctuation in the river course.

The intervention of a long wall in the landscape provides an archaeological structure for the work. By ‘guillotining’ this wall into the land the site begins the transformation from landscape into architecture. The wall describes a new territory, a controlling line that informs the work and any future interventions.

The client’s interest in Greek and Mesapotamian art and mythology informed the design at many levels. Firstly, Greek planning principles can be found in the overall arrangement of the site, with Doxiadis’ description of the methodology and geometry utilized for the layout of the major Sanctuaries. The centrally organised composition – based around a “propylaea” in the original house - is embraced by two varying end conditions: to the east an excavation down into the site, gesturing toward the valley below and beyond; and to the west a ribbon that increases in height and terminates in a verandah facing the natural pool. The Greek ‘treasury’ provided a means of ascribing a significance to the artist’s work. The spirit of this work is also revealed in the cladding of part of the main volume in a wrapped copper sheet, recalling the green fabric utilized in her work Origin of the World (after Courbet), a sculptural action that finds various additional permutations throughout her oeuvre.

This external ‘wrapping’ is also intended to contrast with the action of ‘lining’ used in the library.

The library takes the form of a labyrinth that protects and organises the book collection - currently standing at some 17,000 volumes. Drawn from the etymological basis of the word ‘book’, the library walls are lined in layers of beech veneer that peel away from their substrate – a metaphor for the pages of the first book, composed of thin layers of bark from the European Beech.

This layering also serves to further insulate the landscape walls from problems of water and moisture penetration, enhancing the climatic stability of this partly submerged building. The permutations of the labyrinth form serves to increase the available wall area of the length of the library. A number of ‘islands’ - freestanding bookshelves - sit within the wall alcoves to further increase the spatial complexity. In addition to the provision of an archive, a space is provided where the client can work in ideal conditions for reading and writing, accessed via a secret door in the continuous bookcase.

Image of 'Acropolis III' by Constantinos A. Doxiadis from 'Architectural Space in Ancient Greece' courtesy of MIT Press.