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Plumstead Library: Turning a vision into a reality \

For the past three and a half years, Hawkins\Brown has worked with the Royal Borough of Greenwich and Osborne Contractors to design, develop, refurbish and construct a new civic building in the heart of Plumstead. With completion set for early 2020, how is the original Grade II Listed library being transformed?

The new Plumstead Library will be a flexible building to accommodate the needs of the local community; from state of the art leisure facilities through to inviting and comfortable reading rooms. Achieving this in a new build would be difficult enough but entwining it into a grade II listed structure carries its own intricacies and challenges.

A building is never fully understood until the strip out is complete. We always knew revealing the vaulted ceiling of the first floor museum would be dramatic but we couldn’t have predicted how reinstating the rooflights would transform the space. Further exploration has uncovered original parquet flooring, but perhaps most surprising was the discovery of the old Woolwich Borough Council mosaic to the main stairway. With each discovery we have adapted the design to incorporate the original features without impacting on the building’s functionality.

The introduction of an entirely new environmental system means we have carefully woven pipes, ducts and mechanical equipment through existing and new routes; all without impacting the historical character of the building. New joinery provides shelving, seating and workspace for users whilst also encasing new mechanical and electrical equipment needed to upgrade the 1903 structure to modern day standards.

We’ve also reconfigured the layout, adapting the previously underused spaces for public use. A new entrance on Quilter Street at the rear of the building leads to an inviting and open ground floor. We have propped, carved and rebuilt the rear wall inserting a new structural support before returning its original finish, helping to connect the new and the old.

The original building lacked rooms suitable for the more specialist activities. The gym and badminton court, a much-needed lift, toilets and plant equipment are all contained within the extension. Contemporary in design, the extension is sensitive in its response to the listed building. At first glance it is externally independent, but inside the new and old behave as one. The fabric of the listed building has been cleaned and repaired to celebrate its heritage, whilst the extension is crafted using the same materials of brick, glass, metal, but using modern techniques.

With a completion fast approaching, we recognise that the real journey doesn’t start until the front door is opened for the first time. With the exterior of the building almost complete, the final months will turn attention to the interior fit out before it is entrusted to the people of Plumstead.

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