What is a public library? Rethinking an idea to create better spaces and facilities for the community

Bankstown Library and Knowledge Centre has expanded the traditional idea of what a public library is, becoming a welcoming and socially engaging community hub.

The development is much more than a book repository or a new stand-alone building. It encompasses a series of indoor and outdoor public spaces and connected community facilities, to create a civic centre at the heart of Bankstown.

Bankstown Library and Knowledge Centre

Better for community: The centre provides facilities and flexible spaces of great value to the Bankstown community.

Image: GANSW

The centre accommodates a new library over three levels, a 300-seat theatre, an IT lab, multi-purpose conference rooms, meeting rooms, spaces for information displays, and a café. Combining these resources has created an open and accessible public facility, fostering a sense of community and local pride.

Complementing the neighbouring town hall

The new knowledge centre complements its civic neighbour – the Bankstown Town Hall built in the 1970s – through physical scale and setting, and through its role providing community facilities. The centre extends the function of the town hall by introducing multi-purpose spaces that host a range of activities to attract a greater diversity of library visitors.

Bankstown Library and Knowledge Centre

Better fit: The new library relates to the geometry, scale, and character of its older neighbour, Bankstown Town Hall.

Image: Christian Mushenko.

Improving the public domain

The scope of the project considered public amenity beyond the library building itself. Improvements to public spaces include a public park, an aquatic sculpture garden, new street trees, off-street parking, and pedestrian links to an all-weather bus stop.

This connected approach has improved the overall value of the project to the community, and extended its positive impact on the local area.

Bankstown Library and Knowledge Centre

Better value: The project has added value to its neighbouring public spaces and facilities.

Image: GANSW

Creating a variety of spaces and experiences

The new library is an uplifting and enriching place, encouraging people to explore a series of inviting spaces – both formal and informal – designed for reading, learning, teaching, working and meeting.

Bankstown Library and Knowledge Centre

Better look and feel: Book shelves are located on three floor levels that open onto a three-storey central atrium.

Image: GANSW

Bankstown Library and Knowledge Centre

Better working: Triple-height interior spaces allow a visual connection between different floor levels.

Image: Christian Mushenko

As well as creating a sense of spaciousness and transparency, the visual connection between the different floor levels, and functions, is a vital aspect of how the building works, helping people to find their way to the various spaces and facilities.

Setting a high standard of environmentally sustainable design

The design team used an innovative approach to optimise quality and value in regard to the building’s environmental performance. Sophisticated control systems maximise the use of natural light and indoor air quality for human comfort as well as saving energy. These features include improved-performance lighting and air conditioning, and a “green wall” of plants that helps to improve indoor air quality.

The team conducted an audit of existing building fabric available on site, including those available from renovations to the neighbouring town hall. Materials that were salvaged and re-used include timber flooring, precast concrete panels, aluminium roof sheeting and stainless steel joinery.

For example, one of the environmental design features is a thermal “labyrinth” consisting of air flowing through concrete blocks that aids the building’s air conditioning and ventilation system. This was constructed using salvaged concrete panels.

Enlivening the facades

The building’s facades feature a beautifully detailed system of colourful sunshading louvres, set within the box-like form of the building. The louvres twist and fold, creating chevron-like patterns that mimic the geometry of the neighbouring town hall.

Bankstown Library and Knowledge Centre

Better performance: Louvres shade the glass building facades and filter natural light into the interiors.

Image: Christian Mushenko

While shading the facades, the louvres allow views into and out of the building. This creates a sense of connection between the library interior and the public spaces outside.

Engaging the community in the design process

Bankstown City Council appointed a design team after seeking and assessing expressions of interest from architects. The team led a relatively traditional design process organised into clearly defined stages: responding to the initial design brief with a “return brief”, generating design options, developing the design in greater detail, then preparing documentation for the development application.

Stakeholder and community consultation sessions were held regularly to clarify and develop the project brief, as well as to give updates on the design as it progressed.

The council benefited from early engagement with community and stakeholders, and managed the continuous sharing of information efficiently. The design team was actively involved with the different client groups, which in turn led to strong, ongoing relationships.

The project has become a reference for better design quality across the town centre.

Quick facts

Project type
Public library and community centre
Bankstown City Council (now the City of Canterbury–Bankstown)
Completed 2014
Procurement Process
Design: open expressions of interest Construction: fully documented lump-sum contract
Central commercial district and transport hub of Bankstown, in south-west Sydney
Project scale
Site Area - 2.1 Ha Parkland Building Site - Approx. 840 M2 Gross Floor Area - 7235 M2 Over Three Levels
Project team
Architecture - Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp Pty Ltd (FJMT)
Landscape Architecture - FJMT
Interior Architecture - FJMT
Structural Engineering - Taylor Thomson Whitting
Building Services And Sustainability - Steensen Varming
Acoustic Engineering - Acoustic Studio
Access - Accessibility Solutions
2015 Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) Emil Sodersten Award for Interior Architecture
2015 AIA NSW Chapter John Verge Award for Interior Architecture
2015 AIA NSW Chapter Commendation for Public Architecture
2015 World Architecture Festival, shortlisted finalist in the Culture category
2015 Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA) NSW Engineering Excellence Award for Local Government / Public Works Project
2015 NSW Lighting Design Awards, Award of Excellence
2015 Association of Consulting Structural Engineers (ACSE) Excellence in Engineering Award for Medium Projects
… plus awards (2009–10) for urban design, sustainable architecture, and environmental excellence.

Lessons learnt

While the client’s design brief is important, careful consideration of the project’s use, the site, and the needs of the local community has made this building much more than a library, delivering greater value for the community and the client.

More information

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Design Report, Bankstown Library and Knowledge Centre, FJMT and Steenson Varming, published on the Architecture & Design website.