Public library and social centre, 1967-70 by A.G. Sheppard Fidler and Associates.
Reasons for Designation
Bourne Hall Library and Social Centre, of 1967-70 by A. G. Sheppard Fidler and Associates, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: a striking design, notable for its space-age flair and the generous, top-lit principal interior space;
* Plan form: the circular layout is well-organised, legible and flexible;
* Historic interest: as an ambitious example of the expansion of the library service and the integration of community facilities and disabled access.
The site was formerly occupied by Garbrand Hall, a country house of c.1770. It was renamed Bourne Hall when it was purchased for use as a school in 1926. In 1945 it was acquired by Epsom and Ewell Borough Council on the condition that its grounds were preserved. The house itself was in poor repair, and despite local opposition was demolished in 1962, with the intention of erecting a new public building on the site. The Borough became a library authority in 1964 and took over the facility with the intention of building a larger library. Many aspects of the brief were determined by John Dent (d.1972), the dynamic Borough Librarian. Additionally facilities such as museum and exhibition space and rooms for community use were included for an area with high post-war population growth but lacking in cultural and social facilities.
A design was commissioned from Alwyn Gwilyn Sheppard Fidler (1909-1990), previously chief architect of Crawley New Town from 1947 to 1952 and City Architect of Birmingham from 1952 to 1964. The design, one of his first commissions in private practice, was approved in April 1965. It included a suite of study rooms for evening classes, subsided by the local educational authority in an example of ‘joint provision’ by different tiers of local government. The entrance ramp and lift was an early instance of designing disabled access into a public building from the start, predating official design guidance and legislation on the subject. Construction commenced in November 1967 and the building was officially opened on 17 April 1970 by Lord Munster, Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, as commemorated by a stainless steel plaque in the foyer.
Public library and social centre, designed from 1965 and built in 1967-70 by A. G. Sheppard Fidler and Associates, job architect B. W. Loren assisted by F. Fook; W. S. Atkins and Partners, engineers.
MATERIALS / STRUCTURE: the structure is of reinforced and pre-cast concrete, with aluminium windows, green Cumbrian slate copings and mosaic external finishes to the perimeter wall. The copper-clad dome with its central glassfibre rooflight is 42.6m (140') in diameter and 11.2m (37') at its highest point. 20 vertical pre-cast concrete ribs form a corona. The knuckles of the ribs are held in position by an in-situ pre-stressed, post-tensioned concrete ring beam which forms both the gutter and the eaves for the main dome. The roof construction is a sandwich of materials: the outer layer is sheet copper bonded to felt and wood wool panels on steel joints spanning between the frame. Towards the outer edges of the roof the wood wool panels are replaced by a band of lightweight ‘Gunite’ concrete sprayed onto permanent formwork.
EXTERIOR: the exterior is a curving volume with a continuous band of aluminium windows at ground and first floor. The upper floor slopes inward and is surmounted by a broad copper dome, from which emerges a corona of pre-stressed, post-tensioned concrete ribs. Single-storey volumes of varying widths project forward of the circular footprint. The windows are separated by load-bearing pre-cast white concrete mullions running between a floating plinth and fascia, and some windows have Cumbrian slate panels beneath. The elevations are designed to a 4" (c.10cm) module enabling standardised pre-cast components. The result resembles a flying saucer, and was designed to sit low within the existing mature landscape. The ribbed concrete boiler chimney is 12.8m (42') high and provides a vertical counterpart to the library’s dome.
PLAN / INTERIOR: the building has a circular layout and is planned at three levels under a large central rooflight. The semi-open plan library occupies about half of the ground floor in a broad arc and is entered from the main foyer. It comprises a reference and a lending library and a reading room. The freestanding radial bookstacks have been replanned and the wall-mounded shelves are later replacements* (not of special interest). The main hall, for lectures, concerts and adult classes, is sunken below ground level, and its roof forms a mezzanine museum and exhibition area overlooking the library. The interiors of the hall* and the adjacent minor hall* are relatively plain and have been recently refurbished; they are not of special interest. Around the perimeter project single-storey ancillary rooms, including a banqueting suite, catalogue area, offices and a junior library. With the exception of the junior library, the interiors of the perimeter rooms* and the corridors that serve them* are not of special interest.
An entrance canopy on the south side provides covered access from the car park. The entrance doors have been altered by the insertion of a revolving door* (not of special interest). A small café and shop have been inserted into the central space, and some of the walls have been plastered and painted white for exhibitions; these alterations and additions* are not of special interest. Ramped entrances, a lift and low bookcases are included to facilitate disabled access. There are two staircases of African hardwood: a helical one near the entrance with a polished concrete spine beam rising to the mezzanine or gallery floor and a horseshoe-shaped staircase at the far end of the foyer which descends to the main hall. Risers were added to the formerly open-tread helical stair in the 1990s. The internal walls are of 0.4m (16”) thick concrete for sound insulation and are partially finished in timber panelling.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: The junior library opens onto a raised external play area, provided with brick planters and enclosed by an openwork wall of sculptural concrete blocks (the south wall has been removed). To the south a former pond has been infilled with a paved surface. Outside the footprint of the building are a number of freestanding air handling units*; they are not of special interest.
* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.