Issue 196
Winter 2016

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Aug 22, 2017
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    Against the trend… a new library opens its doors

    Frances Anderson finds a warm welcome for a new cultural complex in Dunfermline and discovers the architect's thinking behind the project

    SCOTLAND'S former historic medieval capital, Dunfermline, is enjoying something of a cultural comeback. Following the transformation of the old unused fire station into a contemporary arts centre in 2015, the town is now celebrating the creation of the new Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries (DCL&G).

    Designed by Richard Murphy Architects, the DCL&G is a spectacular new museum and art gallery in the heart of Dunfermline's Heritage Quarter, integrating imaginatively with the world's first Carnegie Library.

    The impressive £12.4 million award-winning new building (EAA Building of the Year) houses a new museum, exhibition galleries, local history reading room, new children's library and a mezzanine café.

    The building boasts stunning views over the landscaped garden to Dunfermline Abbey and the Heritage Quarter, which contains several historic buildings of national significance, such as the medieval Dunfermline Abbey and Abbot House, one of the few intact 15th century buildings left in the country.

    Named after the Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the first of Carnegie's public libraries was in his birthplace, Dunfermline in 1883. Born there in 1835, Carnegie grew up in a family that believed in the importance of books. Known as the 'Patron Saint of Libraries,' he is credited with founding some 2,509 libraries.

    The project is a Fife Council development, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust. Fife Cultural Trust manages the project on behalf of Fife Council.

    The main museum covers six themes: Industry; Transport; Recreation and Culture; Home Life; Two World Wars; and Dunfermline as a Centre of Royal and Religious Power, while the galleries present a programme of changing visual art exhibitions.

    Local Sarah Brown, visiting with her parents from Ayr, commented: "It's stunning, with great exhibits. The way it incorporates the outside is amazing."

    Local support worker Helen Montgomery, visiting with a client, said: "I like to hear about the old days in Dunfermline," adding, "I didn't use the library before, but will be back again now. I love the gardens."

    Fife Cultural Trust staff spent weeks moving thousands of books, museum objects, precious archives and artworks into the building. Local studies officer Sara Ann Kelly explained how the old - the world's first Carnegie Library - married to the new expansion.

    "Artefacts in here link the two," she said. "Original book cases remain in the Carnegie Library, but just around the corner is a brand new multi-layered Reading Room with stunning views of Dunfermline Abbey."

    Local resident Colin Maxwell, who writes Scottish historical comic books and was doing research said, "They've done a great jobmixing the old with the new, I love all the natural light."

    Ailsa Gormley from Fife Cultural Trust says the centre has attracted children from all across the Kingdom. She said: "I've been doing school visits for the last couple of weeks and in every school I've asked "Who's come to see the new Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries?" - hands always shoot up and those that haven't come get really excited." Jo Craig, a local, visiting for the first time with her two children, says, "I'm very impressed and it's lovely having the outdoor area for kids. I'll definitely be back."

    Named building of the year in a prestigious architectural competition, the project has subsequently won an RIAS 2017 Award. Architect Richard Murphy said: "A contemporary building at the heart of a conservation area is not an easy project to bring about but we hope that this building, in the fullness of time, will take its place alongside its historic neighbours."

    Murphy's vision for the new building incorporated many different agendas.

    "We wanted to make a building that is highly contemporary but also complements the historic buildings all around and in particular how it integrates with the existing library. When inside the building we wanted to bring the presence of various historic buildings into the inside as well as unexpected views of the wider landscape. We also wanted to make a building that was easy to find your way around in and to make it a sociable place; a place where you would arrange to meet a friend for a cup of tea without necessarily using any of the facilities. In that way we hope it both regenerates library usage but also the town centre."

    Inspiring the design, says Murphy, was, "socially the building was predicated on being a social centre. And in that sense it follows on from a number of buildings such as DCA in Dundee, Eastgate Centre in Peebles, Galeri in Caernarfon, etc. where we have been successful in that regard.

    "Architecturally the plan owes a lot to the idea of 'thick-walled' architecture, such as the plan of the Scottish castle, but here organised as three parallel rows. Within those thick walls the ancillary accommodation is found and between them are all the main spaces and the internal street.

    "In terms of other architects my own personal hero, Carlo Scarpa, has had a lot to do with the main faç ade and the stepped section archive reading room owes a debt to Aalto."

    Murphy admits it was a difficult project to undertake: "We had Historic Scotland objections which resulted in a complete redesign of the entrance; the budget was a continual challenge; the amount of facilities inside the building had to be squeezed into the permitted envelope of development; and everything had to be specially designed."

    With two significant cultural projects completed, who knows what's next for the town of Dunfermline?

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