Jubilee Library, Brighton

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The Jubilee Library building blueprint won a BREEAM excellent rating even before construction work had begun. But what's of particular significance is how a project deploying a wind-assisted passive ventilation system, best-quality local materials, even toilets that flush on recycled rainwater, can come in, at £9 million, so relatively cheaply.

Rab Bennetts of Bennetts Associates, who jointly designed Jubilee Library with local architects Lomax Cassidy Edwards, believes it was important to propose something that would not overwhelm the location. "I think we've got a good-looking building, stylish, but modest in scale, in keeping with the roofline of surrounding buildings and not overstated." And local residents were on board from a very early stage - invited to regular, well-attended public meetings to help influence the final design.

That design involves a four-storey building, with reading rooms, meeting rooms and staff accommodation situated either side of a central, double-height atrium, itself built on two floors. The central space is constructed of a C40 concrete table, supported by a series of eight tree-like columns with fins that give on to an exposed ceiling soffit. As Fulcrum's project manager, David Selvage, explains, the thermal sink caused by this exposed concrete is a vital part of the building's passive ventilation system.

"The library incorporates 1200 x 260mm Termodeck precast hollowcore slabs in the ceilings of the rooms on either side of the central atrium", says Selvage. "In summer, air is pumped through the Termodeck to cool temperatures inside the building at night, which during the day are kept to a comfortable level partly by the effect of stored 'coolth' and partly by passive heat exchange with the exposed Termodeck planks and insitu mass in the building's centre."

An interesting and eye-catching feature are three, five-metre tall wind towers on the building's roof. These are an integral part of the passive cooling system, drawing warmed air up and out of the structure. In winter, artificially warmed air is circulated through the building, where once again the exposed concrete plays a part in absorbing heat by day, and releasing it by night, ensuring an even temperature. High efficiency heat recovery units capture heat from lighting, PCs and people, recycling it back through the system.

Heating bills during winter months are further reduced by the library's magnificent south-facing glass facade, with louvres specially angled to allow in winter sun but deflect it in the summer.

There is a conventional air-conditioning chiller unit in the library's plant room to cap the internal temperature at 25°C in summertime, but even during the occasional heatwaves, the majority of rooms stayed below this temperature without the chiller being called into operation. The overall cooling effect achieved by passive means is put at 4-5 degrees lower than the ambient external temperature.

Selvage explains that, thanks to Termodeck and exposed concrete's thermal mass, the plant needed to heat and cool the library is a fraction of that required in a conventional air-conditioned building. "There are two air-handling with heat recovery units and 50Kw gas-heater batteries. That's just 20 per cent of a more typical 600Kw boiler installation that would normally be used for a building of this size." What does this mean in energy saving terms? "After fine tuning, we expect the heating system to use well below 20Kw hours per square metre per year, which by anyone's standards is a very good performance" says Selvage.

Most remarkable of all is the way in which this building, with its bespoke lighting that adjusts with available daylight and rainwater-flushing loos, was erected within the very tight cost constraints of a PFI project. Setting aside certain revenue-generating features such as the library's integral commercial bookshop, it's fair to say that environmentally sustainable design has also proved to be highly affordable design.

David Selvage of Fulcrum puts it well. "It's not necessarily more expensive to construct a building like this. The M&E component of the build was something like 16-17 per cent of Jubilee Library's total cost, compared to a conventional heating and cooling system of between 20 and 25 per cent. Perhaps building design has reached a time when this sustainable approach could itself become the conventional route."

In the meantime, Brighton has got itself a new civic amenity that seems a hit with the public and somewhere that makes reading cool again, in more senses than one. The building sits modestly in its landscape, yet with a great impact on the eye - and a minimum impact on the environment.

Project team

Client: Brighton and Hove City Council
Developer/operator: The NUPPP Fund (Mill Group/Norwich Union joint venture)
Architect: Bennetts Associates/Lomax Cassidy Edwards
Principal contractor: Rok
Principal engineer: SKM Anthony Hunts
M&E engineer: Fulcrum Consulting
Concrete contractors: Termodeck and MJ Gallagher

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