Architect Chloe Naughton of M3 Architecture searched through the library collection during the 2017 Asia Pacific Architecture Forum and uncovered the design evolution of the State Library’s building. Read her Q + A and see the creative response generated from her research.
What was your approach to finding objects in the SLQ collections?
My search through the library’s collection began with a quest to discover the origins of masonry in North Queensland. This topic was very specific and so I was met with numerous dead ends and the research wasn’t exactly flowing. I was given a great tip-off from a director at work who was himself interested in the extension to the old Brisbane library building on Williams Street but had no idea who actually designed it. This is when the research became really interesting and involved searching through boxes and boxes of plans, photographs, letters and maps.
Were there any unexpected surprises in your dealings with the SLQ collections?
It turns out, this building with its wonderfully iconic mosaic mural, was a 1950s extension to an 1800s building with the extension designed by Government architects at the time. I became interested in learning more about the history of the library’s collection and in particular, the old reading rooms. Why did the collection move from the William’s Street library to a new building across the river and why has this building since been made even bigger? I had so many questions and the answers began to unravel. It was surprising to learn of the procurement process for the Queensland Cultural Centre which was completed in the 80s by Robin Gibson & Partners. This project began with the practice winning a competition to design the Queensland Art Gallery and morphed into a whole performing arts precinct comprised of four prominent buildings along Brisbane’s river.
Why did you choose the 5 objects that you selected?
The objects that I selected form a timeline of events showcasing the history of the State Library of Queensland, beginning with an image of the beautiful reading room in the old library where it first acquired its collection in the late 1800s. The images of the reading room tell such an evocative story from the characters presented with their formal attire and newspapers as large as bedsheets. This is then followed by a passage in David Malouf’s book ‘Johnno’ which recounts fond memories of the main character’s time spent surrounded by volumes of books in the library’s once iconic reading room. The timeline ends with a beautiful artist’s impression of the proposed extension to the Robin Gibson & Partner’s library building completed as part of the Queensland Millennium Arts Project by Donovan Hill & Peddle Thorp Architects.
What is one lesson or insight that you learned as a part of your investigative process?
During this process, I learnt not to be too specific or precious about the information I was looking for. It seems better to begin with a small variety of broad topics that really take your fancy and watch the information unfold from there. Everything starts to flow, one thing leads to another and all of a sudden, you begin to uncover information that has been sitting in the confines of the library collection for years which you had no idea existed!
How was your creative response inspired by the five objects that you found?
I have always loved reading and have fond memories of time spent in wonderful reading rooms, the ones filled to the brim with books. Perhaps due to technological advancement or other unforeseen circumstances, the great reading rooms of the past seem to have been left behind and I am yet to find a similar space within the current State Library building where the walls are lined with books, calling you to spend countless hours nestled into a corner with a great piece of history to devour. In my opinion, the John Oxley reading room leaves one feeling quite exposed and features minimal books. This nostalgia I have with such spaces and the perceived wonder presented through the images of Brisbane’s old reading rooms has inspired me to propose a similar space in the current State Library of Queensland so users can once again delve deep into a world of books.
Why did you decide upon this particular outcome for your creative response?
Who doesn’t love an imaginary project and why not take the opportunity to explore a space as delightful as a lovely big reading room for the current State Library of Queensland.
Was the approach of finding inspiration from the past similar to how you currently work or different?
It is actually very similar. A project has so much more substance if it is well researched and considered and so I am always looking back at history to see what has come before and how it may influence the present and future.
How did that affect your outcome?
Finding real items from the past, gems you can actually hold in your hand rather than a piece of text read online, holds more meaning for me as a form of inspiration or guidance. There lies a duty to respect this insight into the past and use it to wisely inform what comes next.
Would you look to use a similar approach again in the future?
It can be difficult to know what to search for when you don’t know what exists. When I began researching, I would only request a couple of items at a time. Now I request my limit of twenty in one hit and there is plenty to dive into and very quickly one hour becomes five.
The items collected are so rich in Queensland’s history, exposing stories of a time unfamiliar to me. This library’s collection seems to be an untapped resource, floors of history stored within the walls of the repository, hidden away like precious gems. I certainly would use a similar approach to research again in the future, however I would love to do my research within the library’s repository and actually sit in there surrounded by all the collection in order to uncover more of what was stored within.
This article is based on Design Finds which was presented by Chloe Naughton and Jonathan Kopinski on 23 March as part of the 2017 Asia Pacific Architecture Forum.