How the State Library of Queensland Captures the Spirit of People Coming Together

State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

The Modernist institution is an exemplary model of designing for Country, says Wiradjuri man and architect Craig Kerslake.

I was drawn to the State Library of Queensland. Years ago, I was having a coffee with my brother at the Gallery of Modern Art next door, when I looked over and saw this interesting minimalist Modernist building. It was predominantly concrete with a green dappled-glass band wrapped around it, in a gesture to the Brisbane River. There were people flowing in and out of the building – it was humming – and I had to know more about it.

It was redeveloped in 2006 by [the architecture practices] Donovan Hill and Peddle Thorp. My friend and fellow Indigenous architect Kevin O’Brien had worked on it so I asked him to take me through the building. It’s a series of interconnected meeting places, each with its own purpose and character. At the core is a light-filled atrium that connects the spaces together. There are outdoor terraces that nod to the quintessential Queensland verandah and blur the notion of what’s inside and outside.

State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

It transcends the notion that a library is uptight and about social order. They’ve captured the spirit of how people come together, whether it’s over a cup of tea, looking up family history, a person studying for the HSC or a person reading a journal. It invites everybody, young and old, to sit comfortably alongside each other. That sense of inclusion is magnificent.

It playfully brings the character of Queensland into its spaces. The tearoom has lots of timber panelling, which captures the essence of an old Queenslander house with timber cabinets. It has a collection of souvenir tea towels and other ephemera, which tell of the state’s history. It also curates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture really well and includes an archive of artefacts. Truth-telling – sharing the hard stories about Aboriginal culture – also happens in various spaces. It has a lot of soul and almost dares people to participate in their culture, regardless of who they are.

The library is subtle and humble in its design. Some architecture can be quite arrogant and impose itself on place, while other architecture tries to fit in and respond to people and nature. The core brief we should consider is how a building makes people feel and how it can bring them together.

Craig Kerslake is managing director of Sydney-based architecture and design firm Nguluway DesignInc. He is a founding member of the DAB Indigenous Industry Advisory Board.

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Image credit: David Chatfield

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