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The Hive, also known as Worcester Library, is a large golden-coloured library in Worcester, England.

For over two thousand years, societies have recognised the vital importance of maintaining central repositories for the printed word, both for historical archival reasons and for the propogation of knowledge. National library collections, such as the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, the British Library in London and the Royal Library, Denmark in Copenhagen - nicknamed 'The Black Palace' - could be said to be 20th/21st century high-tech versions of the Library of Alexandria.

Background and finances[edit]

The Hive is widely considered to be one of the most ambitious library and archival resource centres to be created in the United Kingdom. Designed by the architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBS), it opened its doors to the public on 2 July 2012 and was officially opened by HM The Queen in the following week. Based in Bath, FCBS won the RIBA Stirling Prize, the award considered to be the most prestigious in architecture, for its masterplan for the Accordia housing development in Cambridge, the first time that the Stirling Prize had ever gone to a housing scheme.

Costing £60-million, The Hive, Worcester, was the subject of a complex private finance initiative programme, which brought together the designers with the building contractors Galliford Try Ltd and the mechanical and electrical engineers Max Fordham LLP. Originally developed in Australia in the 1980s, PFI is a method of procurring the design and construction of major public public buildings by using private sector funding and contracting services. The building's joint commissioning clients were the University of Worcester and Worcestershire County Council. Funding was provided by the National Lottery, the British government's Department for Culture, Media & Sport and the Department for Education.

From the outset, The Hive was seen as more than a council library. It was to be an integrated public and university reference and loan library, linked to the county's Archive and Archaeological services. In addition, a one-stop-shop information service - 'The Hub' - would be operated from within the building by Worcestershire's County and District Council Services.

Once The Hive's design team had been assembled, the local authority's project managers organised a fact-finding tour of possible paradigms, including visits to The Black Diamond, Glasgow's Burrell Collection and The Heelis Building, the Swindown, Wiltshire, headquarters of the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty.

Popularity[edit]

The Hive received 471,816 visitors in its first six months of operation, an indication that it will achieve its target of one million visitors in its first year. With 94.5 hours a week of operation, The Hive has the longest weekly operating hours of any library in the UK. To keep the building running, a maximum of 50 staff members are on duty. The popularity of The Hive can be compared to Peckham Library, in the UK London Borough of Southwark, which contributed to an increase of 292,000 annual English book loans when it opened.

External appearance[edit]

The Hive has an irregular external appearance, created by its gold-coloured cladding and a distinctive roof profile, formed by seven upward-facing 'cones'. These have been fashioned to mimic the outline of the popular Malvern Hills. 60x60cm alloy 'tiles made from recycled copper cover more than 11,000sqm of the building's walls and roof and were fixed by the same cladding specialists who undertook the re-cladding of the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The cladding which covers The Hive's horizontal facades is interrupted by large areas of glazing in order to let as much natural light as possible into the interior.

Layout and public facilities[edit]

The total floor area of the 5-storey building covers 13,253sqm. Located at the southernmost point of the city centre, The Hive adjoins the line of the old city wall and overlooks the River Severn.

The basement level, housing the county's Archives Stores, Conservation Department and Archaeology Services, is only one metre above the Severn's 100-year flood level, though several flood prevention safeguards have been incorporated into the structure and the adjoining landscaping. More than 26,000 records are stored in seven climate-controlled strongrooms, including one of the county's most prized archive possessions: the Marriage Bond between William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, dated 28th November 1582.

A large paved forecourt leads to The Hive's main public entrance, a naturally-lit central atrium paved with stone from the Forest of Dean, with The Hub, a café and a spacious Children's Library all set around a central staircase, finished in Ash wood. This is one continuous flight of 42 steps, interrupted only by three intermediate landings, rising up through the building. Its 'structural support' - as with the internal linings of the roof cones - is provided by cross-laminated timber panels, making it an all-wooden entity.

FCBS's colour consultant Libby Lloyd introduced a vivid palette into the ground floor children's spaces, many of the colours being 'borrowed' from historic ranges produced by the city's famous Royal Worcester potteries, including a chrome yellow 'Story Pit', small timber-framed alcoves for parent-child reading and a castellated outdoor Story Island. 'Explore the Past' is the theme of the building's second level, with a number of innovative display and presentation techniques used around the open-planned areas, including pendant 'sound domes', replaying recorded extracts from the county's sound archive of oral history. The Hive's principal public lending space is located on the third level, where there are long arrays of the computer terminals used by the university's students. There are 350 computer terminals distributed around the library, for joint use by library users or students. Over 200,000 volumes are stored in the specially-designed open access stacks, whose ends contain glass-cased display cabinets. Two large meeting rooms and an area for newspaper / magazine reading are at Level 3 and beneath the roof lights; and at the fourth building level is an attic space, containing Special Collections and a quiet study area.

Green issues[edit]

The environmental brief given to the designers and their consultants was that a 50% renewable figure had to be achieved for The Hive, which would be difficult considering the planned popularity of the building. To accommodate the energy demands resulting from expected climate changes, The Hive's environmental needs were 'future proofed' on UK meteorological predictions up to the year 2050.

None of the spaces in the building used by the general public have air conditioning. The large window areas provide sufficient natural light for low-energy electric lighting to be kept to a minimum, reducing both energy demands and ambient heat creation. The seven roof-mounted cones - as well as doubling as huge rooflights - encourage the upward movement of stale air by stack effect, mechanically aided by fans concealed beneath timber slats in the atrium floor. To safeguard against contra-flows created by external wind turbulence which could negate this stack effect, the architects commissioned a scale model of one of the roof cones to be tested in a wind tunnel at Cardiff University.

A rainwater harvesting system feeds all the building's toilets and the stringent quietness levels required for The Hive's study areas are achieved through vertical decorative (ash) timber 'fins', concealing sound absorption blankets which are fixed to the structure's concrete soffits.

The principal heating source in winter is a 550kW biomass boiler, with emergency back-up provided by three 250kW gas-fired boilers. In extreme summer conditions, water from the River Severn is pumped into the basement of the building, passed across concrete heat exchangers, with the cooled air ducted up into the central atrium. Temperature checks are maintained on the water returned to the Severn to comply with the UK Environment Agency's fish protection regulations.

In modern business practice the term synergy is sometimes used to explain how the resulting conclusion of a successful commercial operation can turn out to be greater than the sum of the project's constituent parts. The American Buckminster Fuller was the first western philosopher to use this term in an architectural context, with particular reference to the energy efficiency and sustainability of buildings. The unexpected popularity of The Hive and the meeting of its challenging energy performance target, may lead this library to become one of the few UK examples of synergy in a public building.

Surrounding space[edit]

As well as being the county's primary repository of archaeological finds, The Hive itself is sited on a historic part of the city of Worcester. The area's name, The Butts, refers to the open edge-of-city space known as archery butts, which were designated for longbow archery practice in medieval times (twenty-three UK towns still retain this as a place name); evidence of Roman iron ore smelting was discovered and preserved; and in Victorian times part of the site housed the city's cattle market.

In order to utilise the external spaces around The Hive for leisure and learning, landscape consultants Grant Associates have surrounded the building with plantings of Black Pears (the county fruit of Worcestershire), black poplars, cherries, oaks, willows and medieval fruits. Tracts of wild flowers and grassses close to the building will act as supplementary 'coolants' for fresh air being drawn in at basement level during summer, and for future fuel for The Hive's biomass boilers, a large plantation of willows has been established alongside the building.

Further reading[edit]

  • Better Public Libraries; Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment; 2003.
  • RIBA Journal; 'Creating the buzz'; April 2012 (pp40-49).
  • CIBSE Journal; 'Golden Wonder'; March 2013 (pp26-33).