Junee Library
When we were invited by Junee Council to turn the dilapidated supermarket in the main street of Junee into a modern library, we set ourselves some clear objectives. We wanted to respond with an energy and water efficient building, to recycle as much of the existing fabric as possible, and to source new materials from sustainable and local sources. We also wanted to respond very particularly to this community, and to this place. Junee is part rail town, part wheat town. On the rail line halfway between Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, the township was built up over the last century for the servicing and fuelling of steam and diesel trains. When completed, the Junee Railway Roundhouse was the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere, as was the Junee Wheat Silo, they are magnificent industrial structures. They tell a lot about the culture of the place and its people - their pragmatism, directness, and above all, their demand for economy of function. So how do you make a library work in this place- really work, like a steam train, or a wheat silo? Junee has an extreme climate. In summer, hot dry days are followed by crisp cold nights. We knew of a natural cooling system developed in the 70’s in Phoenix Arizona which has a similar climate. It is known as night sky cooling. Rain water is collected from the roof and stored in 2 x 26,000 litre tanks. The collected water is sprayed in a fine mist from the ridges of the roof into the cold night air, where it cools, falls back onto the cold metal roof, and then returns to a 52,000 litre insulated tank for pumping through the floor slabs during the day to cool the interiors. The chilled water is also pumped into a chiller to assist the air conditioning. During a 6 hour night time spray cycle, the night sky cooling can drop the temperature of the 52,000 litres of water to 10 degrees. This volume is sufficient to provide cooling for Library for the following day. In winter a heat inverter pumps warm water through the floor slabs, providing all the necessary heating. Like a steam train, it works. On a summer afternoon it regularly reaches 42 degrees, inside the library it is a cool 24. The building uses a fraction of the energy of a conventional air conditioned building. The concrete slab of the library, beautifully polished and inset with local Murrumbidgee river pebbles, is cool underfoot, and moreover gives an impression of coolness, like a riverbed. There has been a holistic, triple bottom line treatment of issues of sustainability. Embodied energy has been minimised, materials re-used, local labour utilised, architectural forms influenced by the desire for natural ventilation, light, heating and cooling. The strategy for internal climate control integrates passive elements such as south facing windows, thermal mass, heat stack ventilation, rainwater collection and heavy insulation with a mechanical system that integrates night sky cooling, hydronic floor slabs, displacement type ventilation and solar power. Initial calculations show that the system uses between 50 – 70% less energy than an equivalent standard air conditioning system. The library plan has the reading room at the heart and the books at the centre, giving the room a satisfying weight. There is no attempt to create patronising “zones` with colour coding, or to create dynamic geometries to give the impression of much activity where little exists. It is a calm space. You can wander quietly among the books and take one back to a window seat, which are comfortable, secluded, and well lit. The approach to materials is direct and economical. The building was stripped back to reveal the structure, which is essentially a gable roofed shed housed within brick walls. Fine Oregon roof trusses were repaired, and where necessary, replaced. Attempts to overtly distinguish original and new fabric were underplayed here. The ply ceiling panels complement the Oregon, and give the ceiling a warmth and scale in contrast to the monolithic floor. Victorian ash window joinery with matt black steel surrounds frame a dramatic series of glazed openings from the street into the library, and from the library into the ancillary rooms. This emphasises the sense of the reading room being an extension of the street, telescoping sightlines from outside to the spaces within. It is a very stark, crisp detail. On the street the steel awning continues the street pattern, as do the ceramic tiles which form the dado. The curved glass announcing the entry to the street recalls similar patterns locally and in neighbouring towns such as Gundagai. The new ramp to the entry doors provides a suitably scaled approach, and brings the seated eye-line within the building to the level of the standing eye-line on the street, making the connection back to the street from within the library very immediate. We believe that architecture is indivisible from issues of sustainability and social responsibility. We wanted the library to convey a sense of town pride and encourage social interaction. The library was conceived as a specifically Junee building from its’ choice of materials, builders and suppliers, to the arrangement of spaces. We wanted to avoid the tyranny of the new, for it to be instantly familiar. The built form, program and systems are born of the context. We wanted it to fit in, to be elegant and quiet but, to be a contemporary building. The cost/ value outcome has been hugely successful, the building was completed for approximately $2,000 p/m2. For a very tight budget this building has fulfilled it’s social and pragmatic brief, while maintaining a high standard of building. Decisions to ‘do less’ have benefited the project in more than mere economic terms.


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