JVH: We're going to start with the Rare Books Room at Newnham College in Cambridge, one of our early projects completed in 1982, and we are going to look at some of our school and university work during this talk, built in the 1980s and 1990s. What we hope to do is touch on quite a number of ideas which seem to reoccur in our work. One of these is the role of precedent. The more we have gone on working together, the more interested we have become in the existence and value of what's already been built. The idea of a typology of available forms is central to this interest and so is the idea of seeing one's own work as a series of precedents, that is to say not being afraid of taking up the same idea again and recognising the value of reworking similar ideas. This interest in precedent doesn't preclude innovation; what it does, we think, is to enrich innovation because it is based on refining models. We don't seem to be drawn to the idea of reinventing ourselves with each new job. So, back to the Rare Books Room on the slide. This is an example of the centralised top lit plan. It is a traditional form to which we have become very attached and we have been refining its design through a number of projects since we started working together. In fact this Rare Books Room is one of the first times we used it together. We continue to find it a fertile model, for reasons that are maybe obvious, but nonetheless we'll list them here. The first is simply the delight of natural top light, which we find is a very special sort of light, somehow more interesting than light coming from the side, and it does give a more even distribution. Coupled with that is the three-dimensional spatial qualities that top light encourages, and, now more than ever, the possibility of using the section to get air moving through the building, taking advantage of natural stack effect. And finally there's the fact that the section, when you have a naturally top lit building, the section tends to suggest ways in which the space and particularly the circulation can be arranged.
JVH: Here at Newnham College we persuaded the College, who had a tiny budget anyway, that what it required for the care of its rare books was not air conditioning, but just a very stable environment with enough air movement. So we designed a well insulated casket of a building, separate from the main library, and we allowed small amounts of fresh air to be introduced at the bottom of the book stacks which are themselves built free of the wall, and this air finds its way out at the top. A narrow roof-lit slot over the centre (which also marks the circulation area), allows a small amount of natural light into the volume of the building.
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