How ADP is rethinking the modern library at Abertay University


By Jon Roylance

ADP recently completed the second and final phase of our refurbishment project at Abertay University’s Bernard King Library. The project covered all four floor levels, and raised a number of challenges through the design process.

What should a modern library look like? How can the diverse needs of so many students be met in one space? And how should an architect make the best use of technology when approaching a project like this – not as a flashy replacement for traditional ways of using a library, but as a way of enhancing students’ access to learning? 

These challenges – combined with historic issues in the building relating to fluctuating temperatures and poor acoustics – were at the core of ADP’s brief, which incorporated a wealth of new thinking in library and learning space design, while tailoring them to the University’s specific needs by mapping library users’ needs and behaviour. One key concern was the lack of variety in work spaces, with some students keen for more quiet study provision while others wanted better opportunities for social, collaborative learning. At the heart of the refurbishment is a new ‘student quad’ space on the first floor, which offers a choice of comfortable spaces in which to learn and work.


It’s that element of choice which runs through the whole design of the new space. Distinct zones have been highlighted with bespoke joinery elements, from semi-enclosed, tech-enabled ‘group shelters’ to ‘information landmarks’, and even an organic bench table where students can engage with innovative technology such as Microsoft’s surface-studio displays. To provide even greater choice, we opted for loose furniture that could be rearranged to suit differing group or lone working needs.

The risk, of course, is that too much choice creates confusion. To mitigate that risk we structured our floor plan with much larger, more familiar plans in mind: principal corridors were imagined as ‘streets’ with branch routes across the floorplate, which connected ‘neighbourhoods’, or clearly defined furniture zones. To help with navigation, ‘landmarks’ (wayfinding information points) were placed at convenient points throughout the library.


The results are evident across every aspect of the newly refurbished library. The students’ need for a wider range of learning spaces has been met by technology-rich study and seminar rooms, flexible learning and teaching spaces, and a variety of silent and group study rooms. More intimate seating zones are located close to the balcony edge of the building, while furniture for groups of two to eight is dispersed throughout the floors, punctuated as ‘learning neighbourhoods’. The first floor ‘student quad’ reflects more varied pedagogy, better use of technology, and a wider range of possible work patterns.

The new fit-out isn’t just a library, either: it brings many of Abertay University’s key student support services into one easily accessible location on the ground floor (which has also been opened up to provide a new café). This has created a hub for advice and information on wide-ranging aspects of student life, including admissions, finance, exams, and accommodation arrangements.


'The investment Abertay has made to future-proof its library highlights the university’s commitment to providing the best experience for its students,’ comments Michael Turpie, Director of Information Services, on the reimagined space. ‘I’m proud to have led this successful project and can already see the positive impact it’s had, with a continued increase in footfall and use of the library’s diverse new learning spaces.’ How will libraries develop over the next ten – fifty – a hundred years? That’s a question we’re only beginning to answer – but spaces like Abertay University’s Bernard King Library hold a fascinating clue.


Jon Roylance

Jon Roylance

Jon joined our practice in 1996, opening our Manchester studio in 2007 with
director Joe Morgan. Jon
leads our higher education
sector team.