This Grade II Listed heritage building in the Royal Borough of Greenwich is of great architectural and historic interest. It is one of the earliest funded libraries by Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish/American philanthropist in the US and British empire in the time of Queen Victoria and Edward VII. The building was constructed to the designs of Frank Sumner, Woolwich Borough council Engineer at the time and officially opened in 1904. Plumstead library formed part of community civic centre and social buildings – many of which are now demolished. A first floor museum was later added, opening in 1919. Over the ensuing years, areas of the library were closed to the public and used as offices and storage, and in the late 20th century the museum closed. The building started to fall into a state of disrepair, losing its charm, appeal and comfort which it once had, with little public use.
Following on from the Historic England listing in 2016, the Royal Borough of Greenwich decided to use the building as a champion for the Plumstead Urban Framework, making it one of the critical elements of the regeneration of the local High Street and surrounding area. As part of the first phase, the reworking and renewal of the Library started in 2018, enabled by a £16.6 million local authority backed scheme.
Occupying a corner plot on the busy A206, Plumstead High Street, with high volume traffic and London transport passing by, noise was of great concern. In addition, the single glazed metal framed original windows did little to prevent heat loss or draughts, which was going to hamper the sustainability of the building and add to the on-going running costs. Given the function of the internal spaces – quiet, reflective, cosy reading areas of the library for the local residents to use, a solution was needed to combat these issues. As the building is Grade II Listed, the original windows could not be changed, so a reversible adaptation had to be found. Hawkins Brown Associates decided that Selectaglaze secondary glazing would pose the most effective solution to improve the thermal efficiency as well as dramatically reduce the noise ingress.
On the north elevation, facing the high street, the library has two magnificent sweeping bow windows, which occupy the majority of the ground floor. On the first floor and the return elevation facing east, where the offices and museum once were, there are a number of metal single glazed windows in various configurations. They allow light to flood the spaces, but did little to help the comfort levels of the spaces. Well sealed and tightly installed secondary glazing significantly improves the performance of original windows. If used in conjunction with metal framed openings, U-values of 1.9 and reductions of 45dB (if fitted with 150mm cavity) can be achieved.
A total of 63 Selectaglaze units across the 2 facades were installed, which including Series 10-3 pane horizontal sliders, Series 80 – 3 pane horizontal sliders and more. Each sweeping bay overlooking the high street were built up with seven Series 20 vertical sliders, transom coupled to seven Series 45 side hung casements. This configuration complimented the sightlines of the primary windows and allowed full access for cleaning, maintenance and natural ventilation if required. Expertly measured and prepared timbers were needed for these openings. The rear face was curved to match the line of the bow, with a square face to facet fix the secondary glazing too.
Cllr Danny Thorpe, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “As a building for the local community, the Plumstead Centre was designed through close collaboration and discussion with residents. I am incredibly proud of the Centre and the new year-round opportunities it will offer residents through its flexible and adaptable design. Elements of past, present and future Plumstead have been seamlessly embedded within the building, from the reinstatement of our print collection through to the stories written into the façade by local school children.”
After months of highly skilled refurbishment works, the Library re opened in early 2020. Providing the local community with spaces for health and fitness, sports, performing arts and library all under one roof, it is a milestone in the long term plans of revitalising the high street and regeneration of the wider area. It is set to become a sustainable and cultural destination in the Plumstead area and a great legacy for one of the remaining Carnegie libraries in the UK.
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