Bill Bryson Library Durham University library building architecture design interior view
, Durham University
Library Details
Basic Information
University library
Year of opening
Total Cost
15,000,000 EUR
University / Institution
Durham University
Stockton Road
DH1 3LY Durham
United Kingdom
Project Story
Main Motications and Objectives

Durham University has five libraries. The oldest, Palace Green Library, dates in part from the fourteenth century with seventeenth and nineteenth century additions. This building was scheduled to be converted to provide greater access to university special collections. This required the transfer of the law and music collections to the Main Library, the largest library. The Main Library was built in three phases from the 1960s to 1990s, but the university population had doubled since the previous extension in 1993. Study desks were sacrificed to accommodate additional bookshelves, leading to chronic over-crowding and student dissatisfaction. PCs were concentrated in a wing built in 1993, separated from the printed library collections and preventing the simultaneous use of relevant sources in different media. Group study spaces were very poor, leading to complaints and problems with noise in areas intended for individual study. Library staff were dissipated in small rooms around the building.
The aims of the extension and refurbishment were to increase the number of study spaces, increase the opportunities to deploy PCs or for students to use laptops and wireless access to electronic sources, accommodate law and music collections from Palace Green Library, provide open access to collections and consolidate service points. Staff were moved into a large open-plan workroom planned to ensure that interdependent functions such as ordering, cataloguing and processing of acquisitions were co-located.
After the east wing extension was completed the University decided to continue the refurbishment of the whole library, replacing all mechanical and electrical systems, redecoration, the installation of greater wireless capacity and providing power to all study spaces so that print and online sources can be used together. The Main Library was renamed the Bill Bryson Library in honour of the former Chancellor of Durham University and well-known author.


On university campus close to city centre with views of historic Durham Cathedral and Castle, (UNESCO World Heritage Site). Majority of university departments and residential student colleges are close by..

The earlier library building was designed by Faulkner Brown with their trademark exposed brown brick, narrow windows and entrance on the first floor, due to the sloping site. Subsequent additions to the library added a rectangular block of four storeys (the west wing) containing PCs and mobile shelving. The new east wing was added onto the opposite side of the library. This has produced a reverse Z-plan building that can confuse new readers.
The new east wing is a four-storey steel frame and concrete floor slab construction, with concrete and glass external walls. Additional space was obtained by enclosing part of the angle between the east wing and the south-east side of the earlier building with a glass wall to create an atrium with additional study spaces. The atrium has a raised floor to provide many additional floor boxes for power and data access. The polished concrete walls and ceilings are of a very high standard, with many other walls covered with gustav paneling or painted plasterwork. The majority of the study spaces have access to power for laptops and PCs. The northern side of the east wing has a series of fins, like a saw blade, with full height glass windows in the edge facing across the playing fields to provide views of Durham Cathedral and Castle. These fins each have 6 study desks and the desks and wall paneling are in elm. The building is fully accessible for readers with mobility difficulties. There are 90 photovoltaic cells on the roof of the east wing to provide green energy, whilst the south-facing, curving glass wall of the atrium has a brise soleil to provide solar shading and minimize glare. 5 metre modular grid.

New Project Data
Extension and renovation

Total Floor Area
8,558 m2
Floor Area Open to Public
Shelving Capacity Open Stacks
17,519 linear meters
Shelving Capacity Closed Stacks
4,195 linear meters
Number of Staff
65 FTE
Total Seating Capacity
Group Study Rooms
Individual Study Rooms

Late, Night, Weekend
Additional Features
Special Rooms
Special Features
Additional Comments