atelier V competes for Sydney Library

Westwood , California


atelier V’s entry in the International Design Competition for Sydney’s Green Square Library and Plaza.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore MP, Mayor of Sydney said : ” We hope architects from around Sydney, Australia and the world will be inspired to work with the city of Sydney and the local community on our new Green Square project”

On July 23rd , 2012 , the City of Sydney, Australia launched the Green Square Library and Plaza International Design Competition.  The competition will be run in two stages with top five (5) ranked entries selected to take part in stage two.  Eligibility was limited to licensed architects and landscape architects from around the world.  The jury for this prestigious competition is comprised of John Denton, director of Denton Corker Marshall(DCM), an RAIA Gold Medalist and a professor at Monash University Faculty of Art and Design,  The Architect and Academic , 2002 Pritzker Prize winner, RAIA and AIA Gold Medalist Glenn Murcutt, Urban Designer and Landscape Architect George Hargreaves, Architect Rachel Neeson and two other library and constructability consultants.  The following were the main thrust of the competition


• An appreciation of the issues of the community, site, the library and the plaza;
• The design approach pursued;
. An Exploration of the importance and meaning of “The Library” is central to this project
• The concept design for the library and plaza including:
– Response to the future urban fabric;
– Intelligent and Imaginative Architectural and Landscape Design response
– Ecological sustainability;
– Holistic artistic and creative approach of design
– Usability and fl exibility; and
– Feasibility and deliverability within budget..

atelier V responded to the competition brief by researching the context in Sydney and compiling material on the history of the area while reviewing the work done on the Surry Library not too far from the competition site as well as other major libraries of similar size and scope.  ” Our main concern was the urban design aspects of the site, we had to design the library and the plaza to fit in a non-existent future context and vision given to us in the brief” Says Mark Vaghei, AIA, Lead Designer and atelier V’s Principal in charge.  atelier V worked with the constraints of the site and its particular ecological conditions to establish the initial Design Parti.  “The Parti became a direct derivative of site constraints, the underground culvert easement running through the site and the vehicular/light rail traffic on the north side pretty much left us with an elongated figure”.  ” We decided very early that we want to make the roof of the building an integral part of the plaza design, maximizing the plaza surface, so we lifted our elongated form on one side to allow for our program underneath while leaving the tail down to allow direct access of the east side” Says Mark Vaghei, AIA. The project evolved from there.  The competition brief asked that the existing vehicular traffic across the plaza be preserved and pedestrian access be provided across the plaza from future retail and restaurants surrounding it.  The Descending mass of the library building from east to west allowed the green roof to become an active part of the plaza and allowing the natural pedestrian and vehicular routes to remain and pass under the elevated roof while minimizing the shadow footprint where most sun was desired.  In this regard, the building became both a path and a destination, with multiple points of entry with various hierarchies. ” We envisioned the structure and its roof as such an interconnected component of the plaza that people could enter it at various sides and levels  and always end up inside the library or on its elevated green roof, the green roof then became a place for reading, meditation, events, experimental gardening and viewing” Says Mark Vaghei, AIA.The structure was envisioned as a concrete column and post-tension slab structure reducing material waste and cost.  The entire structure is based on a 10 meter structural grid which becomes the defining organizational element in the design of the plaza and the elevated garden.
The other aspect of the competition brief which was heavily emphasized was the role of water.  Historically, a creek named Shea’s Creek had passed through the site and currently an existing underground culvert has been proposed running the entire length of the site from east to west.  ”Our proposal re-invents the water history of the site with introduction of a flowing water feature cascading from east to west and disappearing, “We literary and figuratively thought of it as a symbolic incision in the earth’s crust revealing what had once been there” SaysMark Vaghei, AIA. The water feature divided the plaza into a northern “Civic” part, suitable to public events and temporary art exhibits and a southern”Festive/commercial” section more suited to outdoor dining and merchandising,  the two would be  connected via a pedestrian bridge.  The out easterly part of the plaza, traditionally called Neilsen Square was envisioned as mostly soft scape with local trees for shade and allocated to picnic and outdoor events and dining.  This is also where the Library Cafe is located.
The projected budget for the Building and Plaza is $40M including all the design fees, not so large given the scope of the project.  “We really took the budget constraint seriously and wanted to do a project that is executable within the budget, we did not take a total dream approach as many do in design competitions” Says Mark Vaghei, AIA.
The following is the actual text of the competition entry as submitted.  It had to be limited to 500 words :

The vision of a dynamic, adaptable, global and accessible “Urban Park”—a place where ideas and people are free to roam and converge in new and unexpected ways, a Library of the future:


The earth peels off. From its depth emerges a mass, raising its head near Botany Road and gradually descending in plan and section, laying its tail down on axis with Zetland Avenue. The figure lurks low and obliterates separation between it and the ground; it and its context; its interiors and the outdoors. It becomes both a path and a destination.

We invite you to come through the Library’s main doors and the gallery lobby, stroll in any direction and find yourself in the Plaza/roof.  Or, from Ebsworth Street, wander up the elevated Plaza, through the herb and flower gardens, and once again find yourself in the Library.  You are sure to stay connected and take part in the event being held on the roof deck.  Or, come and visit the open air public art exhibit alongside the “creek” that emerges symbolically from the incision in the earth’s crust, where Shea’s Creek once flowed, cascading westward and carving its way into the ancestral sandstone base before disappearing into the ground.  Let your senses take in the sweet scent of the Golden Wattle tree flowers, while you picnic in Nielsen Square.  If you prefer, indulge in the smells and tastes of the open air market and enjoy the al-fresco dining and shopping choices.  Remember to visit the permanent public art exhibit at the Library’s entry canopy.  At the end of it all, take a break.  Simply sit under the lone Angophora tree by the Library Café and enjoy the shade.  This is how it all came about:


The Design Parti is a direct result of the site constraints. The solution places the Library structure between the traffic route to the north and the easement to the south along an elongated east-west axis. The green roof becomes an integrated sustainable component of the overall Plaza design, spanning the entire length of it allowing for vehicular and pedestrian traffic under, while reducing run off and offering superior insulating value. The descending height of the structure from East to West minimizes the building’s shadow footprint in the southern and eastern part of the Plaza allowing maximum sun exposure during winter time. Addressing the hydrology of the area, the entire building is designed on a pedestal, with the first level raised to RL 16.50. As for more pragmatic matters:


The budgetary constraints of the project are met by introduction of a regular 10 meter grid, allowing for simple and economical construction.  Concrete Columns and post tensioned slab structure maximize flexibility while minimizing material waste and costs.  On the roof garden’s hard surfaces, wood decking is proposed, and one meter strips of Australian granite in shades from dark to light in 10 meter increments pave the entire surface of the Plaza. This is then what we are proposing:


An iconic form, fitted into its context and time, with sensibilities toward history and culture, dynamic and adaptable to the new and emerging concept of the modern library, worthy of a technologically advanced, pluralistic and diverse society.


Elise McCurley: Junior Designer/3D Artist

Shawn Aryabod: Writer

For more information on this competition, please visit the competition site at :http://greensquarelibrary.com.au/ and for additional pictures and drawings of atelier V’s entry as well as atelier V’s other projects visit: www.atelierv.com go to projects/institutional/Sydney Library and plaza