The Bodleian Libraries
The Weston Library
Oxford, United Kingdom
The Weston Library building, originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1930, stands in front of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s iconic Clarendon Building and Christopher Wren’s Sheldonian Theatre. Its renovation is at the heart of an ambitious project to renew the entire Bodleian complex to safeguard its huge, unique collection of books and manuscripts. The project respected the spirit and character of the original building while modernizing its infrastructure, improving the spaces and facilities used by students and researchers, and expanding access by the general public.
The architecture and exhibition design
The project created archives of the highest quality for the library’s precious special collections, developed new spaces for advanced research, and increased public access to its treasures by adding a conference hall and 2 new exhibition galleries.
The St Lee Gallery hosts temporary exhibitions while the Treasure Gallery features the permanent collection, which for the first time will allow the library to display masterpieces from its collections, such as the Magna Carta and a Gutenberg Bible.
Designed as a “jewel case,” the gallery’s renovation uses the finest materials, as befits the objects displayed.
In opening the building to the general public and promoting its special collections, Wilkinson Eyre also considered the question of the library’s identity and the need to link it more closely to its immediate context, thus improving both outward perceptions of the institution and inward approaches to the precious objects it houses.
The display cases
Goppion developed and built displays for both of the new galleries, providing twenty-five individual cases in 2 types—wall mounted and table.
A set of wall-mounted cases was custom-engineered for the north wall of the Treasure Gallery. The 5 cases slide on manually-operated geared racks, requiring precision mechanical engineering to ensure perfect stability in any position. Wall cases on the south wall can be moved and reinstalled on any other wall that has been fitted with the appropriate rail system. Goppion developed a special wheeled trolley to ensure that these cases can be moved safely and easily. The cases have a custom burnished brass finish. Eyre wanted the effect to imitate the patina on an Etruscan bronze statue belonging to the patron, Lady Helen Hamlyn. Since bronze sheets of adequate size do not exist, the designers had to use brass painstakingly treated to mimic bronze; testing and perfecting the coloring process took 6 months. Additionally, Goppion manufactured 2 large cases for Blackwell Hall, the library’s atrium lobby. Each includes a wooden bench that begins inside the case itself and extends a considerable distance into the exhibition space.