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Designed by the same architect as the adjacent University Library extension, the Ruskin Library stands on the former site of a bowling green at the entrance to the campus, and in the architect's words acts "as a symbolic gateway or propylaeum to the University".
Reached from the east, the building "stands on a plateau of wavy meadow grass like an island surrounded by water, a metaphor for Ruskin's Venice. The materials used on the exterior - white concrete blocks with a sparkly marble aggregate and green polished pre-cast concrete bands - recall Ruskin's fascination with Venetian and Tuscan materials and construction" The external doors are of bronze-clad aluminium.
The causeway continues into the foyer, where a glass and slate floor continues the theme of water. "The simplicity of the exterior contrasts with the richness of the interior. The use of materials reflects Ruskin's concerns with appropriateness and the values gained through craft processes. The principal structural elements, expressed in their most basic form, are exposed reinforced concrete portal beams which span the length of the building. Rendered internal walls are lime washed with natural ochre pigment, and timber beams to the roof structure are grit blasted and left exposed. The battered walls - intended to suggest the docks of Venice, are finished in black pigmented render sealed with linseed oil"
A building within a building, the Treasury - "sarcophagus, casket or ark" - rises through the full height of the interior, encased in an oak frame with panels of red Venetian plaster. This contains the collection, physical isolation making possible the delivery of environmental control to meet the required standards of constant temperature and humidity, without the need to air-condition the building.
A large opening in the front of the Treasury, guarded by shutters evoking a medieval altar triptych, contains an etched glass panel designed by Alex Beleschenko, inspired by a daguerreotype of the north-west portal of St. Mark's, used by Ruskin in his researches into Venetian Gothic architecture: the original photograph is in the archive.
Readers are admitted, by appointment, after reporting to the Reception counter at one end of the main office. "The arrangement is deliberately church-like, with the entrance, archive and reading room standing for narthex, choir and santuary. This is emphasised by a change in level from the entrance up to the reading room with it's great west window looking towards the sea". Like the Foyer, the room is also double-height; a mechanical blind can be lowered against strong sunlight.
Eight readers can be accommodated, at tables and chairs designed by architect and furniture maker, Jeremy Hall of Peter Hall & Son, Staveley, Kendal. They are in English oak and walnut, repeating the intersecting members of the Treasury. The cabinets, which form a part of the collection, were originally used to house Ruskin's gift of drawings to Oxford University in 1875, and contain frames made to his specification by Foord and Dickinson. The simple pine table is an example from the original Ruskin Drawing School at Oxford.
The Reading Room also has a catalogue room where readers can access the Ruskin Library Catalogue and Ruskin Works on CD-ROM. Also housed in this small room is a set of the 39 Volumes of the Library Edition.
From the Foyer, stairs on either side lead up to symmetrical galleries providing space for the display of pictures, books, manuscripts and memorabilia. Full-length slot windows, which can be closed with a shutter, allow a view through the width of the building. On each side of the large cabinets at the west end of each gallery, further views can be had across the Reading Room and out to the landscape beyond. The Galleries are separated acoustically from the reading room by glass screens.
The Meeting Room
A glass bridge (whose walls are engraved with the names of benefactors to the building campaign) allows the visitor to pass through the Treasury. In the centre is a Meeting Room, which will also chiefly be used as a Print Room by moving the four divisions of the table against the walls. The furniture is again the work of Peter Hall & Son of Staveley. Internal windows, one looking out westwards, have a simple but ingenious mechanism for opening the solid panels, recalling the stone window shutters of Byzantine church buildings.
(not open to visitors)
A spiral staircase connects three floors of storage space for the collection, comprising two picture stores, a main book stack and two multi-purpose rooms behind the glass panel. A small service lift runs through the central column of the staircase.
Sir Richard MacCormac, of MacCormac Jamieson Prichard, of London, whose other work includes Fitzwilliam College Chapel, Cambridge; Cable and Wireless Training Centre, Coventry; the Wellcome Wing at the Science Museum, London; Southwark Station on the Jubilee Line extension, London Underground.
The architect's thoughts on the design are expressed in this article: Architecture, Memory and Metaphor: The Ruskin Library, Lancaster.
Ruskin Library Web Pages created and maintained by Jen Shepherd
All images and text (c)The Ruskin Library, unless otherwise stated.