The Darlington side of main campus of the University of Sydney was a renovator's dream. Its endless array of concrete slabs might lay claim to coherence in some kind of brutalist architecture, but I suspect the university pretty much built the Engineering and Architecture faculties out of whatever spare cash they could find at the time.
The USyd Central building adjacent to the Union's Wentworth building is part of the Campus 2010 plan to reverse the years of neglect that have rendered other universities with substantially more attractive (and marketable) campuses. The first part of the USyd Central to open, the SciTech Library, has now been delivered, and it sure was a delivery from heaven.
When you first walk into SciTech, the thing that strikes you is how different it is from any other library that you've been to. With your first steps past the stylishly glassy entrance, you are presented with a large, welcoming atrium that envelops you and draws you in; the splendour and the interesting topology of the library makes you feel like you are viewing spectacular scenery from the top of a mountain. To the right is a lounge-like area, with playful, lime-green chairs that wouldn't look out of place in an Ikea store. To the left are the book stands, and in front is a sunken valley of study cubicles. At night, the entrance area is tastefully lit up with small spotlights that cast small pools of light on the soft carpet, and during the day, there is ample natural sunlight from the wall of glass.
As I intimated above, the furniture is one thing that sets SciTech apart from any other library I've seen. Colourful, distinctive, modern and definitely playful - as I write, some people are stacking up the lime-green chairs in various configurations, possible as the chairs are made up of three conjoined cylinders - the furniture is fitting for a science and technology library. From the jelly-coloured red and orange stools to the Ikea-like chairs, they are all inviting and very comfortable.
The library, from the ground up, has been designed to be more than just a repository of books. It appears to have been designed for students to learn, to study and to collaborate. The "study valley" that I alluded to before encases you as a cocoon encases a caterpillar, drawing you away from the hustle and bustle of the outside world into a study world of your own. The hours melt away as you study in one of the the plush, multicoloured pods, or the seats that line the green river-like divider that separates the study valley from one of the computer access areas. As you meander between the mellow-coloured bookshelves, you come across islands of tranquillity, where you can sit down and enjoy a book or two. If you prefer electronic learning, power points are abundant, and there are multiple computer rooms, with desktop computers and laptops - now that is something I haven't seen before anywhere in the university. The only minor complaint is that the wireless connection here isn't as stable as it could be.
Ultimately, a library isn't much of a library unless it stores books. Although I find it disappointing that in the move to the new library, a large portion of the Engineering collection was moved into archival storage, because there just isn't room at SciTech, there is something that they have done that is quite interesting; some shelves hold the book so that the front is displayed, much like special book displays at book stores.
If the rest of the Campus 2010 improvements are of the quality and thoughtfulness of the SciTech Library, the university is onto a winner. The design of the SciTech library shows a thoughtfulness to the needs of students and staff at the university. I look forward to the new law library with much anticipation - and to spending many days and nights at SciTech.
More photos here.
The SciTech Library: Level 1, Jane Foss Russell Building, on City Road