Super Colossal

State Library of Queensland – Donovan Hill Architects

Tuesday, 26th February 2008

On a recent trip to Brisbane, I had the opportunity to take a look at the refurbishment of the State Library of Queensland by Donovan Hill. It is an addition to a building completed in 1988 and designed by Robin Gibson. Following are some notes/thoughts.

brisbane library donovan hill

Lets get one thing straight - this is a mental building. There are about four thousand ideas at play, and each corner has been treated as an opportunity in formal gesticulation. Don’t have a corner handy? Never mind, just bend out a bit of wall and make a new one.

It seems like an experiment into applying the logic of Carlo Scarpa at the Castlevecchio only with an 80’s brutalist number in place of a 14th century castle in Verona. And it is suprisingly succesful experiment.

brisbane library donovan hill

It is an open, public building. The ground floor is almost entirely permeable with a shady, cool atrium at its centre. There is free wifi, that seems well patronised by the public and a public deck overlooking the Brisbane River. The floors above house the books, reading areas and function rooms.

At the RAIA Conference two years ago, Timothy Hill described in his elliptical way, the difficulties his practice was having in realising this project. Having seen it now complete, it is easy to see why a public client and large construction company may have had a tough time with this project. It is a public building detailed - in parts - like residential project. That this is part of its charm should be no suprise; how often do you walk through the public domain of a building, out onto a finely crafted timber balcony? Or handrail fixings that are made of seven interlocking components?

brisbane library donovan hill
brisbane library donovan hill

If there is one strange thing (brought to my attention by Dan) it is that for a library, books feel very scarce. They must be in there somewhere as there are desks with people reading them all over the place, but unlike say OMA’s library in Seattle, actual physical books are not the focus.

brisbane library donovan hill
brisbane library donovan hill