Martyrs Kirk Reading Room, University of St.Andrews

The acquisition of Martyrs Kirk by St Andrews University and its conversion into a post–graduate reading room for the Faculty of Arts shows the adaptability of our historic fabric. The original church by Gillespie and Scott completed in 1928 sits in the post first world war national tradition so ably captured in Lorimer’s National War Memorial, and Burnet’s Chapel for Glasgow University and echoed in the university developments of Yale and Duke Universities in the United States. Characteristic of this phase of architectural development is the idea of horizontal emphasis of volume rather than vertical accentuation through the use of towers, resulting in a massing and articulation which can easily be adapted to a broad range of uses.

The quality of this new academic fit was enabled through a dynamic briefing process where we were able to determine the functions of the reading room, the activities to take place within these settings and the furniture required to support the activities. Crucial to the outcomes of this consultation was the idea that in removing the pews we should not simply end up ‘reading’ in the empty volume of an old church. Rather that we needed to exploit the new uses and associated furniture and fitments to reconfigure the space, by bringing down the scale of the volume, creating an intimacy within the greater volume.

As a result it is the crafted book cases and writing tables which re-define the interior space as a reading room, addressing the scale of the nave and creating a feeling of academia whilst responding to the ecclesiastical nature of the architecture. Specifically by locating the bookcases in-between the arches a new echoing ‘colonnade’ is created framing reading alcoves, central reading spine, raised reading area in the old sanctuary and study area in the side wing. This idea of echo is continued in the illuminated bookcase end panels by Bespoke Atelier a reference to the original stained glass of the church.

Supporting accommodation has been provided in the side halls adopting similar principals.

  • Bespoke book cases and writing tables re-define the interior as a reading room

  • Bookcase end panels by Bespoke Atelier