Extension to National Library

  • Location: Georgian / Governmental Quarter
  • Architect: OPW Architectural Services, Orla Hanly Architect
  • Completed: 2004

In 2002, The National Library of Ireland acquired important original manuscripts of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The previously refurbished former National College of Art and Design building was identified as the space to exhibit these manuscripts for the centenary of Bloomsday in 2004.

The architectural challenge was to provide public access from the Library’s semi-circular entrance hall to the different floor levels of the new exhibition spaces. The insertion of a new atrium accommodates this transition and brought about new and refurbished spaces. The new atrium, inscribed to the scale of the existing reading-room, punctures the skyline with four large roof lights. Their distinctive form can be read as lanterns from the footpath of Merrion Square signalling the opening of these buildings to the public.

Located to the right of the Library’s circular entrance hall is the former Director’s office, which forms an anteroom before entering the newly constructed East Wing of the Library, replacing the sub-standard construction of 1920s. This leads to a circulation space flanked by the bookshop, café and new stairs connecting to the roof-lit space of the atrium. This new route culminates in the exhibition rooms, which link directly to a seminar room, an existing space used for film screenings, lectures and other events. A shallow saw-tooth profile timber ceiling was introduced and continued onto the vertical plane. This insertion achieves a suitable reverberation time and visually holds the space for formal presentations.

The focus of the first exhibition in the new space was the creative process of Joyce, which is described and illuminated by reference to an exceptional array of manuscripts, artefacts and multimedia technology illustrating the development and evolution of Ulysses. The National Library holds the Number One copy of the First Edition of Ulysses and this iconic artefact is a centrepiece in the exhibition. Through the interactive ‘Turning Pages’ technology, the visitor can ‘leaf through’ and study the pages of this unique piece.

The collection of original manuscripts held by the National Library is on display in the second room where Joyce’s creative process can be explored. An orientation wall is designed to help the visitor set the context of the story behind the day in Ulysses, the locations of the episodes and the characters of Leopold Bloom, Molly Bloom and Stephen Dedalus. The  extension  has subsequently been used, in a similar fashion, to house other exhibitions such as one focusing on the life and work of the esteemed Irish Poet W.B. Yeats.

Posted by Reflecting City Team on Wednesday, September 17, 2008
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