On the site of an old Victorian wash house in Aldgate, Wright & Wright were commissioned to design a new building to provide an archive, museum, conference centre and a range of educational and conference spaces for the Women’s Library.
Founded in 1926 by Millicent Fawcett, the eminent campaigner for women’s rights, the Library began life in a converted pub in Westminster. Emerging out of the suffrage movement, it has since evolved to become the UK’s most comprehensive research library covering all aspects of women’s lives, from political activism to domestic minutiae.
The resolution of the building’s structure, environmental control and spatial organisation led to the development of a complex section of heavyweight construction. When completed in 2002, it was the first passively controlled archive to be built in the UK in an urban context.
Specially commissioned works by artists added to the experiential richness of the internal spaces. Since 2013 the collection has been in the custody of the London School of Economics and the building taken over for use by London Metropolitan University.
Wright and Wright's design for The Women's Library is both sensitive and robust. They have been mindful of the building's and the collection's history as well as giving us a building fit for a new purpose. It's high quality, beautiful and 'cool' and our many visitors are delighted.
Former Director, The Women's Library
Marked by abrupt changes of scale, the site straddles an urban hinterland between the City and the East End, with office towers looming over housing estates and street markets. Dating from 1846, the original wash house was an important amenity and social focus in the locality, especially for women, and its presence is preserved in the remodelling.
The facade on the east side was retained and partly wrapped around the new building, a fragment of the past linking women’s lives over the centuries. Behind the massive soot-coloured brick wall, the new building steps up to a height of six storeys, constructed from russet brick and copper cladding, which will age gracefully over time.
- RIBA Award 2003
- RIBA Best UK Building of 2002
- Best UK Public Building: Brick Awards 2002
- Liveable City Sustainability Award 2002
- Wood Awards 2002: Shortlisted for Best Public Building