Carmody Groarke

British Library at Boston Spa . Leeds

Carmody Groarke . renders: © SLAB

The masterplan for the national repository of the British Library, at Boston Spa in West Yorkshire, is driven by the urgent need for more space for the British Library’s growing print collection. The 44-acre campus, formerly a Second World War munitions factory, is home to more than three-quarters of the Library’s collection of over 170 million items. In the last ten years around 7 million physical items have been added to the Library’s archives; requiring about 8km of new shelving annually. By the end of this decade the current storage facilities are projected to be full.

The masterplan is intended to create a more outward facing campus, increase the capacity and quality of storage for the national collection, create a better place for people to work and vastly improve the long-term environmental sustainability of the site.

The project encompasses two buildings; a significant renovation and adaptation of the brutalist Urquhart Building, the first purpose-built building for the British Library, constructed in the 1970s, and a new fully automated, low-energy archive building that will allow for the expansion of the collection for decades to come.

The 35,000m² Urquhart Building, at the heart of the masterplan, will be renovated to consolidate and centralise onsite support operations for over 600 staff as well as integrate new public-facing facilities for research, exhibition and hospitality to provide more public interaction with the collection processes. New additions reference the form and expression of the original civic architecture but realise this in timber rather than concrete, to signal the Library’s environmental ambitions in-construction and in-use. New facade interventions will be made in terne-coated steel which will gently patinate and harmonise with the hue of the existing concrete facades.

The major new fully-automated storage repository will provide 225 linear km of additional capacity allowing sufficient storage for the growth of the national collection. The expression of this vast, archetypal ‘noble shed’ is on one hand entirely pragmatic, shrink-wrapping a new high-performance, highly air-tight envelope around the automation systems, but given a distinct architectural character with horizontal divisions of mirror-polished stainless steel facades referencing the original Urquhart Building and reflecting the images of the surrounding landscape. The archive will also contain a public viewing gallery to experience the Library’s automated technology and a new, more formally expressive distribution hub building.

The project also benefits from a new ground source heat pump network, as part of a site wide decarbonisation strategy.