The new Surry Hills Library in Sydney was featured in Australian Design Review and other architectural publications, so on Saturday I went to have a look. From the architectural renderings I expected the building to stand out as a big glass box amongst the small inner Sydney terrace houses. But it proved remarkably hard to find. The street front has blond wood panels and the side is a sheer glass wall, but even so does not look out of place.
The ground and lower floors of the building, which hold the library shelves and computers for the public, felt very cramped. Unlike many modern library designs, where the books are hidden away , the books are right in front of the main door . While this makes the library look like a traditional library, it makes it hard to move around. There is a very narrow bench beside the main door with computer terminals. These are arranged in a row with alternating screens just about touching. There is only just enough space to work.
The spiral staircase for access downstairs is very sculptural and dramatic, but difficult to use and obviously inaccessible for the disabled and a hazard even for the fit. There are also a number of changes of level which will make the building hard to access for those with less than perfect mobility. Downstairs is cramped with bookshelves filling the main area and seating pushed to a few narrow areas at the edges. There are 15 terminals crammed in at the far end away from the natural light.
While the building is usable, it could do with about one third of the collection being removed, to make room for people. Also more of the books could be put downstairs and the people allowed up into the light.