Exhibition celebrates iconic library's 50th birthday

The University of Sheffield is set to stage a new exhibition charting the history of the Western Bank Library. Once dubbed "the best modern building in Sheffield" by architectural historian, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the display will celebrate the library's 50th birthday.

The 'Million Book Library' exhibition, which will be staged in the newly-refurbished Western Bank Library from Tuesday 19 October 2010, will follow the development of the Western Bank site from rural beginnings to the home of the magnificent Modernist library building.

Officially opened in 1959 by the poet T.S. Eliot, the library was built and designed as a result of an innovative national competition, where entrants were asked to design a new library capable of holding one million volumes that would take pride of place on the University campus.

There were 99 competition entries and three prizes were awarded, the first going to Gollins Melvin Ward and Partners, a firm of up-and-coming architects. They were typical of the new wave of architects that established Modernism in Britain as part of the post-war reconstruction. In their competition entry, they sought a simple clean architecture with wide basic spans offering flexibility of use. This approach promised to unify the University campus despite the stark contrast between new and old.

The exhibition will feature selected material from the University and library collections and original documents including; the Terms and Conditions of the Competition, the opening address given by Nobel Laureate T.S. Eliot, photographs of the Western Bank Library under construction by Derek Fellows and upon opening by Henk Snoek, and architectural drawings by Gollins Melvin Ward. A central feature to the display is a commissioned replica model of the 1953 vision for the site constructed by 6th year Architecture students at the University; Tom Hudson and Phil Etchells.

In 1993 the building acquired Grade II* listed status, along with the adjacent Arts Tower building, and the opportunity arose for a refurbishment project. This was completed in February this year (2010) and was overseen by leading conservation specialists Avanti Architects. Their refurbishment maintained the building's distinctive architectural features – and in some cases reinstated features which had been obscured by later modifications. One such feature is the library's marble-walled Exhibition Gallery, in which the Million Book Library exhibition will be held.

The exhibition was curated by Karen Middlemast and Jacky Hodgson, from the University Library.

Karen said: "The new exhibition will explore the architectural vision of Gollins Melvin Ward from concept to construction and discover the changing face of the University Library in the 21st Century. The materials we have on display will give an insight into how the building was designed, constructed and how it has changed over the years, and we are delighted that these documents will be publicly accessible."

Jacky said: "The library is a fantastic asset to the University and we are delighted to be holding this unique exhibition to celebrate the historical journey of the iconic Sheffield building. The exhibition will give both members of the public and the University community a chance to view the unique documents, photos and models which will illustrate the building's changing history over the years."

Notes for Editors: The exhibition at the University of Sheffield Western Bank Library will run from 19 October 2010 – 14 January 2011 and be open 9am to 7pm Monday –Thursday, 10am to 7pm on Fridays and 12pm to 6pm at weekends. The exhibition will be closed from 5pm on Friday 24 December 2010 until 9am on Tuesday 4 January 2011.

Gollins Melvin Ward – Architects

Frank Gollins, James Melvin and Edmund Ward were aged 41-42 when they won the competition for the University of Sheffield master plan in 1953. They had formed their partnership in London, 1946 and preceding the Western Bank site had already designed Hurlfield Secondary School, Sheffield and the College of Commerce and Technology in Pond Street, now Sheffield Hallam University.

For further information please contact: Lauren Anderson, Media Relations Officer, on 0114 2221046 or email l.h.anderson@sheffield.ac.uk