Looking at Buildings

, printed from the Looking at Buildings website on Saturday 13th August 2022

The Central Library

neo-TudorGlossary Term [1] without, ClassicalGlossary Term [2] within); and the interiors show little real movement towards ModernismGlossary Term [3]. Why, then, is it so significant in the developing British Modern Movement? Firstly, as Pevsner says, the styles are used with a "freedom instigated by Mackintosh's Glasgow Art School" - juxtaposed, stripped down and stylised. Secondly, for the innovative exterior composition and handling of volume and mass, especially the south and east facades.

The entrance vestibule and staircase tower are at the east end, three floors of public spaces to the north, with offices and storage to the south on five floors, taking advantage of the sloping site. There is a central lightGlossary Term [4] well, and glass panels are set in some floors to illuminate the lower levels. The budget was not extravagant for a building of this size and complexity. Holden overcame this by using brick on steel framing, with facings of Bath stone. Internal ornament is kept to a minimum, and much is executed in plaster; but quality is never skimped. All the carpentry and furniture was designed by Holden and executed in durable teak, and the well-known London craftsman William Aumonier did most of the stone carving.

Arts and CraftsGlossary Term [5] principal of equal attention to back and front. Bold chimneystacks and framing towers establish the dominant verticals, and the central arched and buttressed bays echo the north front. There is a complex play of projection and recession both here and on the high blank east walls, reminiscent of the library wing of Mackintosh's Glasgow School of Art (1906-9) and Hill House, Helensburgh (also designed in 1902). Its stair turret in the re-entrant angle is strikingly similar, but one hesitates to claim precedence for Bristol, since Mackintosh had rehearsed the major compositional elements at Windyhill, Kilmalcolm by 1901. Rather, Holden draws on the same set of ideas - mathematical logic, spatial manipulation and Arts & Crafts respect for locale - while synthesising a new and infinitely pleasing design.

Last updated: Monday, 26th January 2009