Infants enjoy the interactive floors in the State Library J Fairfax Learning Centre. Designed by BVN Architecture

Once upon a time, libraries were silent spaces dedicated to scholarly pursuit, quiet revery and hushed reading. Today they’ve have undergone a revolution. Marrickville and Woollahra Libraries paved the way with their lush green spaces, interactive features, and spatial designs that encourage “coming together”. Hot on the heels of these success stories, BVN Architecture has again been recognised for its work – this time for innovative education libraries.

The new library spaces created for the State Library NSW, and International Grammar School, have been named winners in the 2021 Learning Environment Awards Australasia.

 International Grammar School, Sydney

The new “Bibliotheque” created for Sydney’s International Grammar School is a place of genuine retreat amidst the bustling activity of their city location.

Students enter the library by crossing what appears to be a cool forest floor. It’s a magical space featuring a glass pond complete with lily pads leading through a bright tunnel to a conservatory for group study. A lookout at the entrance, sequestered within greenery, overlooks the school’s main stairway. A pop-out window overlooks the sports hall in one direction, and another pop-out peers into an adjacent amphitheatre.

Here, up to 80 students can gather on tiered seating, under a striking glowing ceiling, made of stretched fabric over a field of LED lights. Continuous planting on a trellis gives the feeling of an being outside – an important feature for an urban campus with limited outdoor space. Beyond the amphitheatre, the library continues into larger, more flexible open space, with reading room, study nooks and benches along the peripheries, and a beautiful outdoor learning terrace.

“We wanted to create a place that was a sanctuary for the students – a physical change the environment, offering them a place to a pause, recharge and be creative,” said architect Phillip Rossington.

John B Fairfax Learning Centre, State Library of NSW

The State Library Learning Centre has won a Commendation in the Small Projects category: this category is for libraries specifically designed in collaboration with learning team and kids, for children, families and young people. The centre which occupies the ground floor of the historic Mitchell Building, is a light, bright and flexible space which is exciting and engaging. Featuring huge arched windows that face the Royal Botanic Gardens, enticing reading nooks and playful interactive floors it’s the kind of experience that can’t be replicated in a classroom.

The entry to the centre is through a ‘secret’ door, tucked away behind a painting which is a huge LCD screen, providing elements of discovery and surprise. Then it is into a magical four metre tunnel, which gradually tapers and shrinks to a child’s scale. The tunnel is lined with interactive elements and displayed artefacts and offers a peek-a-boo moment in the adjacent family room.  At the end of the tunnel, the student ‘pops’ out into the Learning Centre. Echoing the arch of the windows are stunning floor-to-ceiling bookcases, complete with cosy window seat between them. There are writable wall surfaces, quirky break-out areas, an interactive floor, and a Digital lab which houses high-end technology including a 3D printer.