In the round | Abbotsleigh Library & Innovation Centre

More than a library, Abbotsleigh Junior Library & Innovation Centre forges new campus connections and sets imaginations soaring.

Abbotsleigh and AJC have a long history, and this project is part of our master plan for the evolution of their heritage campus in Wahroonga. The Junior School’s Library & Innovation Centre stitches together new and old campus facilities with architectural forms designed to delight and inspire. The junior school caters to 600 students including its early learning program.

Design of the 1,140 sqm centre involved the partial retention and integration of the old library building and insertion of a new glass ovoid building that brings the world of literature to life. The ovoid shape beautifully punctuates the more conventional buildings on campus, and allows staff a 360-degree view of children at all times. It also connects intriguingly to landscaped outdoor pockets.

The ovoid library carefully inserted into the campus.

The egg form purposely protrudes into courtyards, encouraging a flow of movement around the building, through the landscape and back inside among the bookshelves. It’s inspired by organic forms in nature, using the building as wayfinding, its ovoid shape beautifully punctuating the more conventional buildings on campus.

The existing building was truncated and refitted with conventional classrooms and staff areas, neatly stitched into the new ovoid library, which is exhilarating and fresh in both format and finish. Its architectural language of transparency and reveal includes the curved glass walls, an undulating concrete canopy and sculptural animate staircase, dubbed the ‘Stairosaurus’ – for its reptilian resemblance.

The library creates a new focal point and clarifies circulation on campus.

This glass-covered circulation spine connects the library’s two levels and the old and new parts of the campus. Under the stairs are caves that visually connect to the library’s ‘nest’; a planter at the top of the stairs hangs, head-like, out into the courtyard, and the tail of the stair wraps around to provide new seating for the existing canteen.

Open to interpretation

“We wanted a playful element, but nothing too prescriptive or literal. The new forms and spaces are slightly open to interpretation. The staircase insinuates itself into various areas of the campus, and like a number of the new spaces, is a single element performing multiple tasks,” says Dua Green, AJC Studio Director.

An interior language of circular lines and forms, like ripples in a pond.

Another multi-functional element is the white concrete canopy that connects the remaining portion of Everett House and the new library. The previous awning was a narrow colonnade with limited uses. The new cantilevered awning sweeps from south to north, linking the old and new buildings via a generous sheltered thoroughfare that also serves as an undercover lunch area, a handball court and scooter track.

Learning is not linear

Inside, the library is a tech-enabled wonderland over two levels, with ideas and circular forms drawn from illustrated children’s books on nature – ripples in ponds, lily pads and stepping stones.

Carpet through the library centre is a deep watery blue, with a stony pebble carpet around the perimeter, evoking the idea of a shoreline. Ceilings are a series of radial patterns, referencing ripples in a pond. “The maze of curved bookcases represents the idea that learning is not linear.” —Dua Green, AJC Studio Director.

Upstairs auditorium.

Upstairs are presentation areas and support classrooms. Downstairs is an auditorium and library with interactive spaces for different learning modes set around a maze of curved bookcases.

Other features include an AV room with curved digital screen and acoustic curtains for full immersion, climb-through bookshelves and ‘caves’ for quiet reading carved into bookshelves or the building façade and seating bays embedded with sensor-activated lighting.

Looking down to the ‘immersion dome’.

User friendly

In developing the interiors, AJC consulted with teachers and referenced ideas from the children. Where little hands make contact with the building, its material palette is softer and tactile, for instance concrete entry portals are timber-lined for warmth, while vertical window mullions were custom diecast with a smooth, rounded profile in an aged copper colour that ties in with other campus buildings.

“The design is all about the users – the kids – and their interaction with this building. It’s a robust structure with a lot of softness to the detailing,” says Dua Green, AJC Studio Director.

An undulating canopy links the Everett Building to the new transparent library.

Sustainable design

In sustainability terms, half the existing Everett House building was retained and repurposed, including its elevator, saving significant embodied carbon emissions. The old lift, now screened with hardwood battens is a striking element in the new library, accentuating the new volume of space with its strong vertical presence.

ESD modelling helped optimise the placement of glass walls to limit heat load. The new double-volume space is oriented south, connecting to courtyards and drawing in soft natural light, while the west and east façades predominantly adjoin existing buildings or are screened with awnings.

Refurbishment of existing buildings and undercroft spaces, coupled with carefully considered landscape and courtyard elements by Oculus, have breathed new life into existing facilities including the hall, stage and canteen, and greatly improved accessibility through the campus.

The maze of curved bookcases represents the idea that learning is not linear.

Dua Green, Studio Director