Architects: Ahrends Burton Koralek
Completed in 1967 by G&T Crampton contractors, to the competition winning design of ABK Architects, and named after the Kilkenny-born philosopher George Berkeley (a seminal figure in the field of optics and perception), the Berkeley Library sits stoically poised on its plinth between the once openly-arcaded “Old Library” (1712), and the exquisitely detailed Museum Building (1857), where it forms the threshold between Fellows Square and College Park, continuing the pattern of rectilinear courtyards and gardens which characterize the western “Arts-End” of the campus.
Widely held as Dublin’s most wholly-conceived, and well-executed contemporary construction – exemplary in its pivotal siting, exceptionally composed in form and function, exquisite in its material and construction – it houses a cavernous, partially buried, double-storey basement book store, beneath the podium-level entrance and reference hall, with the more inward-looking first and second floors together forming one large reading and open-access book storage area. Whilst the central areas are top-lit by a collection of crowning north-lights, a series of beautifully balanced facades filter day-light through the perimeter, with a playful planar-relief working over the rhythm of the structural grid, breaking down the bulk, and allowing views in and out of the pocketed reading spaces.
Expressed externally, the reinforced concrete structure bears the impression of the knotted timbers used to form its mould – a memory from a now near 50-year old viscous moment, frozen in time – and supports the massive planes of bush-hammered Wicklow Granite which wrap the shelf-lined interior, and reflect the changing day-light with its sparkling mica, and honey tones. The extraordinary bronze framed curved-glass windows rest in their recesses like pearls, shimmering like a mirage. Even the drains at their cills – where lead flashing folds into little sink holes before emerging as a concrete spout – would have you wishing you were water! Concrete creases, glass glides, flashings fold with such finesse – the concentration, will and control required to achieve these details in built, weighty reality, is staggering.
What is more effecting again though, is the heightened consciousness felt in the interior – an out-of-body trance if you will – when sitting in the reading rooms, or moving through the book stacks, the grid of pillars, which is neither menacing (in the totalitarian sense), nor mundane, becomes a sort of map that measures your movement. You can see through the grid from one situation, into a repeated other, into a repeated other, through void after void; see yourself walking through stack after stack, like street after street, and arrive in some kind of endless spatial suspension – a self-referencing continuum; an always everywhere; a little universe – a library! That sense of detachment, that wonder of being alive – it hits me every time.
That the architect Paul Koralek was just 28 at the time of the design is remarkable and testament to the clarity youth – how brave, and now mature – a logic so strident, yet so respectful. This difficult beauty; this diamond in the rough – a heavenly place, “where nothing ever happens…”
Geoff Brouder is a Senior Architect with award winning firm O’Donnell+Tuomey Architects, where he has just completed the London School of Economics’ Saw Swee Hock Student Centre. He is also a studio tutor of Architectural Design at UCD.