Posted by: bluesyemre | July 19, 2018

#Storyhouse: How an innovative #library has energized the life of a cultural hub

Storyhouse. Photo credit: Peter Cook

[Editor’s note: Simon Erridge, Director at Bennetts Associates Architects, writes about his work on Storyhouse, the building which was officially opened by the Queen and the Duchess of Sussex in June 2018, and featured in RIBA’s list of the best buildings of 2018]

Storyhouse is Chester’s cultural hub, a theatre, cinema and café/bar which hosts professional and community activities, but it is also the main city library, with books spread throughout its spaces. The venue is housed in a converted art-deco cinema, it is open 7 days/week until 11pm, the longest opening hours of any library in the UK.

We designed Storyhouse for client Cheshire West and Chester Council, and the plan to include a library in the brief started as an opportunistic piece of cross-funding. However the advantage was soon seized to free the library from its conventional civic building and to surround it with the creativity and buzz of an arts centre.

Storyhouse the organisation (previously Chester Performs) is both a theatre producer and combined arts organisation and we worked closely with them, along with the city’s library service, to realise the vision. They drew on their experience as a site-specific producer to challenge the accepted norms on how conventional arts centres, and libraries, should operate.

They were quickly able to see the opportunities offered by the partnership, and we were all energised by meeting Dutch library guru Erik Boekesteijn who came with strategic input to the kinds of character spaces that could be created in the building.

Together we designed an innovative solution which would see the library become totally integrated into the building’s operation and planning, and more than that, it would become the most vital ingredient in the cultural mix, bringing people in throughout the day and creating an atmosphere as rich with socialising and study, as it is with storytelling. From the start there were to be no internal doors, no way to ‘close’ the library, and the performance activity in the building – with theatre and cinema finishing late – guaranteed long hours of operation. Its omni-presence meant that the word ‘Library’ never actually had to appear on the signage.

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