The Library at the Dock
The Library at the Dock is a welcome addition to Melbourne’s Docklands precinct. A cross between a library and a community center, it brings much-needed civic life to this new part of the city.
Af Jennifer McMaster
On approach, the Library at the Dock reads as a three-story timber-clad box. An oversized awning projects outward, acting as a shading device and entry canopy for the building. This gesture also engages with the main public thoroughfare, a heritage-listed wharf that winds along the waterfront.
The Library at the Dock relies on a simple building diagram of stacked floor plates arranged around a central stair. This circulation core cuts through the building, bringing in light and providing glimpses between levels. The surrounding floors are supported on a grid of columns and beams and are enlivened with loose furniture and functions.
The Library at the Dock is an accessible public space dedicated to community activity. The ground floor has concrete floors, high ceilings and a generous sense of scale. It contains book displays, a café, couches, and a flexible room, which accommodates anything from tai chi to children’s parties. This space overlooks a nearby park, which is sheltered from the wind by the new building. The atmosphere within and between these spaces is informal and buzzing with life.
Upstairs, the Library at the Dock evolves into a mix of uses. The spaces are dotted with moveable shelves, gaming lounges, table tennis tables, and study areas. Here, the spatial emphasis is more horizontal, with panoramic slot openings framing nearby views and high windows bringing sun deep into the space.
Across all of these spaces, the Library at the Dock maintains the feeling of a familiar living room. It is a building that prioritizes the interior experience, and as such is cozy, comfortable and welcoming. Domestic touches are evident throughout, with operable blinds and glass louvers allowing occupants to adjust their immediate environment. There is a great understanding of the human scale, with pleasant places to place a book, sit and read, or study.
The Library at the Dock is primarily constructed from cross-laminated timber (CLT), a material that is still gaining traction in Australia. CLT is used for the upper floor slabs, roof and core wall construction, while the post-and-beam structure is made of glulam. All of this structure was manufactured in Austria and shipped to Australia, facilitating a quick, simple and cost-effective construction process.
The beauty of this timber also translates to the architecture. The timber structure is celebrated and lends the building its weight, warmth, and legibility. Horizontal light fittings hang elegantly in between the beams, picking up on the overall structural rhythm. Elsewhere, a recessive material palette of black-painted surfaces and plywood allows the blonde timbers to remain foregrounded.
The post-and-beam construction also acts as a flexible framework for the whole building. The spaces have been designed to remain adaptable, an inevitable requirement of the contemporary library. When items are fixed, they are done so directly and simply, with minimal fuss.
The Library at the Dock is a building that celebrates the simple things. It is a place to enjoy reading a book while basking in the sun or watch the delicate play of water reflected on the ceiling. It is a robust and democratic building, which will serve an important civic function as its community grows around it.