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Central Library

A Grade II Listed Building in Central Milton Keynes, Milton Keynes

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.0436 / 52°2'37"N

Longitude: -0.7595 / 0°45'34"W

OS Eastings: 485172

OS Northings: 239087

OS Grid: SP851390

Mapcode National: GBR D03.SXR

Mapcode Global: VHDT0.SW9Q

Entry Name: Central Library

Listing Date: 30 April 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1424282

Location: Central Milton Keynes, Milton Keynes, MK9

County: Milton Keynes

Civil Parish: Central Milton Keynes

Built-Up Area: Milton Keynes

Traditional County: Buckinghamshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Buckinghamshire

Church of England Parish: Christ the Cornerstone, Milton Keynes

Church of England Diocese: Oxford

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Summary

A public library of 1979-81 by Buckinghamshire County Council. The plant room to the rear of the building is not of special architectural or historic interest.

Description

A public library of 1979-81 by Buckinghamshire County Council’s architects’ department, led by Paul Markcrow, with Deputy County Architect John Sexton, studio architect Tse-Chiu Ng, and assisted by Graham Fenn and Jim Foster-Turner.

STRUCTURE AND MATERIALS: the library has a steel frame encased in concrete and clad in russet brown brick laid in stretcher bond. The roof, hidden by a parapet, has two hipped sections covered with asbestos cement slates. Door and window frames are bronze-coloured anodised aluminium.

PLAN: the building occupies a rectangular plot facing south-east onto Silbury Boulevard and bounded by North Eighth and Ninth Streets. The main entrance of the two storey building is central to the main façade, and leads to a large entrance hall with exhibition space and the former church hall on the left, and the reference library on the right. The stair to the first floor is at the rear of the lobby, leading to the main adults’ and children’s libraries.

EXTERIOR: the principal elevation has 17 bays articulated by a colonnade of rectangular pillars with full-height sections resembling a giant order rising to the parapet, alternating with single-storey sections to the height of the first floor. The colonnade is arranged slightly asymmetrically: 2:2:3:3:2:3:2, with full-height bays at either end, and with the corner pillars omitted from the composition, leaving a wide opening. The elevation, set back behind the colonnade, has rounded corners, in contrast to the strictly orthogonal colonnade. The ground floor has strips of glazing in aluminium frames, with cills clad in vertically laid brick with rounded corners. The lintels are similarly detailed, but overhang slightly and continue to form a course around the building, above which the elevation is blind. The entrance is within the three central low bays; it has three sets of double doors with full-height windows in between, glazing above, and aluminium panels to either side. A cantilevered fascia box projects over the central section and has modern signage. The colonnade continues on the return elevations, which are arranged 4:2:1, with the giant order on either side. The soffit of the arcade is weatherboarded.

The rear elevation, intended to be built upon in the second phase, is painted common brick with the projecting uprights of the frame. The elevation is recessed in the four left hand bays, and windows light the library offices on the first floor. The rear elevation, while clearly a part of the building, is of considerably lesser special interest than the remainder. A plant room, excluded from the listing, projects from the elevation, and there are loading bays and access doors on the left hand side.

INTERIOR: the interior of the building is deliberately restrained and plainly detailed. Walls are plastered and ceilings have areas of textured plaster, and sections of aluminium matchboarding. Ceiling heights vary according to the function of the space, and large open plan rooms are supported by plain circular structural pillars. Internal walls often join with curved corners, echoing the form of the exterior. Joinery is in ash, and doors retain original aluminium cylindrical knobs. Window cills are quarry tiled and windows have aluminium catches and stays.

The entrance lobby has a quarry tiled floor, and leads to a second set of doors. The central area of the entrance hall has a dropped ceiling with spotlights, behind which it is open to the dog-leg stair, which rises to a central landing (intended to be enlarged into a mezzanine floor in the second phase of building) with Boyd and Evans’ mural covering the wall between the storeys. There is a domed lantern in the roof above, which, with the mural, creates a dramatic transition between floors.

The ground-floor reference library, which occupies the depth of the building, has high ceilings, supporting pillars, and an aluminium boarded ceiling. Original ash bookshelves line the walls, curving at the corners; these typically have five shelves with cupboards below; the shelving here and in the adult lending library and children’s library (see below) was thoughtfully designed and contributes to the special interest. There is a curved enquiry counter beneath a suspended ceiling adjacent to the entrance, which is through a timber screen with double doors, the glazing pattern of which recalls the external colonnade. On the opposite side of the entrance hall are the exhibition gallery and former church hall, both of which are plainly detailed.

On the first floor the adult lending library occupies the great proportion of the space. It has an acoustic ceiling which opens up around the external walls to clerestory roof lights. There is a central enquiry desk beneath the central domed roof light. Round domed lamps, each with three spotlights, punctuate the ceiling on the south side of the room. Shelves, as in the reference library, line sections of the external walls and are freestanding elsewhere. The children’s library is to the north; like the adults’ lending library it has an acoustic plastered ceiling and clerestory lighting to the perimeter. Shelving is as per the other libraries but miniaturised. There is a story-telling area that can be separated off by curtains.

There are a number of offices and meeting rooms, and a staff room; all are plainly detailed and have timber matchboarded ceilings.

ARTWORKS: the bronze sculpture ‘The Whisper’, by André Wallace, stands to the right of the main entrance. Boyd and Evans’ large mural painting ‘Fiction, Non-Fiction and Reference’ lines the inner wall of the stairwell between the ground and first floors. Csáky’s stainless steel geometric ‘Mirror Sculpture’ is suspended from the ceiling of the children’s library.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: a steel porte cochere, as found throughout the town centre, leads to the main entrance.

Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the plant room to the rear of the building is not of special architectural or historic interest.

History

Milton Keynes is the most ambitious of the post-war ‘New Towns’ built following the Act of 1965. It amalgamated a number of existing smaller towns, one of which it was named after, and the new town centre was based on an American-style 'downtown strip', lined with sleek, Miesian buildings. A library had been part of the plan for central Milton Keynes since 1974, and in 1978 gained approval. Designs were by Buckingham County Council’s architects’ department, led by Paul Markcrow, with deputy county architect John Sexton, studio architect Tse-Chiu Ng, and assisted by Graham Fenn and Jim Foster-Turner.

The site for the library was in the commercial centre of the town, facing onto Silbury Boulevard, opposite the newly-built Shopping Building (Listed Grade II). An entire block of the geometric grid of the town centre was allocated, excluding a scheduled archaeological site to the north. The library as it stands today (2015) is the first phase of a what was intended to be a much larger building, which would have included a museum and offices, had it been completed. It was built with flexibility in mind, in order to meet changing requirements and to accommodate the secondary phase. There was a temporary church hall on the ground floor, which ceased use as such in 1992 when the nearby Church of Christ the Cornerstone was completed; it then became the local studies library, and then an education centre.

The library was well-received by the architectural press when it opened in 1981, though the Architects’ Journal noted that the promise of the ultimate building weakened the success of the first phase, the internal layout and circulation of which was to be quite changed with the addition of the second phase. Conversely, elsewhere it was noted that even the first phase of the library was one of the town’s outstanding buildings, and warranted attention from architects and librarians alike.

The Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC), established in 1967, had an ambitious programme of public art and this tradition is ingrained in the library, for which the MKDC commissioned a number of pieces from its inception and has a rotational display of temporary works of art. Upon opening John Csáky was commissioned and created ‘Mirror Sculpture’ which hangs in the children’s library and was intended to catch and reflect the light at different times of the day. ‘Fiction, Non-Fiction and Reference’ was painted between 1984 and 1988 by Fionnuala Boyd and Les Evans while they were Artists in Residence to the MKDC; it is a large painting within the stairwell of the library which depicts, as the title suggests, a variety of fictional and real characters, including Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill. It plays on Seurat’s ‘Bathers of Asnieres’ and includes various architectural features of the town. Smaller studies for the painting are displayed nearby. ‘The Whisper’, 1984, by André Wallace, stands outside the front of the building; it is an over life-size bronze sculpture depicting two women, balanced on a railing, sharing a secret.

Reasons for Listing

The Central Library, Milton Keynes, a public library of 1979-81 by Buckinghamshire County Council, is listed at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: a commanding façade with skilful articulation of the geometric colonnade incorporating contrasting curved elements and details in rich russet brick;
* Interiors: subtly detailed principal spaces that are carefully arranged with the massing of spaces and ceiling heights appropriate to the activity, and on the first floor a clever integration of clerestory lighting and bespoke lighting fixtures;
* Artworks: a small but diverse collection of painting and sculpture made or installed in direct response to the library spaces, the period in time, and the new town;
* Group value: located directly opposite the listed shopping building, it is a contrasting and complementary composition designed as a prestigious addition to the civic and commercial town centre.

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