A redesigned State Library Victoria has officially opened to the public, revealing transformed library spaces designed by Australian architects Architectus and Danish design studio Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects. 

Redesigned spaces include the Victoria Gallery, the Ian Potter Queen’s Hall, the Russell Street entrance, the Isabella Fraser Room and the Quad, which connects all four of the library’s activity courtyards, including the Pauline Gandel Children’s Quarter. 

According to the architects, the new design concept puts library users at the centre, creating a more open, accessible and welcoming experience for people of all ages and backgrounds. 

“Our team and Schmidt Hammer Lassen had a firm philosophy of revealing the heritage aspects of the building rather than recreating them,” says Ruth Wilson, principal and Melbourne studio leader at Architectus. 

“…We developed this philosophy into a design approach that reveals elements such as the original decorative paint schemes, original timber flooring, and re-use of furniture.”

“The design teams spent months in the library to familiarise ourselves with its intricacies, consulting with different groups of Victorians so that the final design reflected the desires of the community, and could pay homage to the historical significance of every part of the landmark site. We’re very proud of the finished product and how each of the spaces has come back to life, with heritage details once hidden for many years uncovered for the public to enjoy.”

A reinvigorated floor plan

While the library’s previous layout led visitors through spaces without fully showcasing what the building has to offer, the new floor plan has a clear hierarchy of thresholds and spaces, connecting the various zones of the library physically and visually.

“The design concept also creates opportunities for connections between people, offering a diverse palette of new spaces to engage with knowledge and with one another,” says Elif Tinaztepe, partner at Schmidt Hammer Lassen.

Heritage at the heart

The aim of the redevelopment was to not only to better engage the wider community and connect the space in a more efficient manner, but to pay homage to its heritage and the historical significance of the library, according to Wilson.

One of the most notable developments at State Library Victoria is the transformation of the 163-year-old Queen’s Hall, which has been re-opened to the public for the first time in 16 years. The space has been stripped back to reveal its former beauty and original paintwork, while drawing a modern design line through the Hall and the rest of the library to connect the rooms. 

“The focus for Architectus and Schmidt Hammer Lassen was to reveal the existing heritage elements in State Library Victoria, not replicate them," adds Wilson.

"Years of clutter and additions have been removed from spaces, returning them to their original intended beauty. Layers of paint have been scraped back to reveal the first decorative paint scheme in The Ian Potter Queen’s Hall. It is raw and exposed, so that it’s age and history is tangible and intriguing."

The 1910 marble staircase that allows for easier, direct access to the dome has also been reopened for the first time since 2003, with its original worn marble retained and revealed beneath a new overlay.

Putting the user first

The new design was heavily influenced by current and future users of the library.  

“Workshops were held with parent groups, primary and secondary school students throughout the consultation process, sitting down with them at their schools and in the Library to find out what they wanted to experience,” says John Sprunt, principal at Architectus. 

“From these sessions, we learnt that children wanted a range of spaces, from reading nooks to places where they could run around, be a bit noisy and burn off energy. It was one of the defining aspects of the project and heavily influenced the conception and design of the Children’s Quarter. 

“We know that different children learn in different ways, so the design also had to address the fact that there is no cookie cutter approach to designing for children. What we have now is an area that can be anything a child wants it to be, suiting children of all ages and personalities, while remaining consistent with the design line of the rest of the Library.”

Strong wayfinding was also implemented to help improve natural flow and movement between zones.

Photography by Trevor Mein