Manchester Council decided to spend £50m on redesigning and refurbishing Vincent Harris’s neoclassical central library in the heart of Manchester. The project began in 2012 and their intent was to enhance the existing superb building which Harris based on the Pantheon in Rome. The building was of course circular, it’s rotunda form in the style of the classical Roman building. Despite the building being only 80 years old there were significant architectural challenges to address in the refurbishment. In addition the council wanted the interior to have a modern accessible and state of the art library inside. To realise their ambitions they commissioned Ryder Architects for the building design and refurbishment and Rackline Ltd to provide the cutting edge storage systems for the new concept. The challenges for Rackline were significant, hundreds of thousands of books had been stored down a salt mine in Cheshire for several years whilst the library was being refurbished in addition several satellite collections had to be included. The library also wanted on the fourth floor a publicly accessible powered shelving system something that had never been available in the UK before. The size of the project was daunting, on it’s completion it would become the second biggest public library in the UK.
The Rackline solution in the end delivered three distinct levels of storage in the basement and on the third and fourth floor. Each floor had a different requirement from the council and Rackline ultimately delivered a unique and different solution on each floor. The basement was to be used as the core storage area for all the collections. This area would not have public access but the library demanded nearly 18,000 linear metres, unbelievably almost one million books! This demand was complicated by the circular design of the building which didn’t lend itself to conventional geometric design. To address this Andy Reed the Rackline designer created a powered Multitrak system which amazingly followed the curve of the building. On the fourth floor the complexity increased again. The library wanted a publicly accessible powered mobile system that would run around the circumference of the building allowing the public to access more eclectic collections whilst being able to gaze down on the internal vista of the building. Rackline proposed and developed a public safe version of its Quantum powered system. In addition to a “press and hold” safety system for moving the mobile units they added an electronic torque level detector which would cut the power once the torque went above expected normal use levels and in addition a physical torque limiter which would de-gear the motor from the drive once safe levels were exceeded. This meant the powered system had three safety features, far in excess of what the library had expected and creating a super safe environment for the public. Finally the library wanted esteemed historical figures of Manchester displaying on the end panels of the fourth floor systems. Rackline provided vinyls of blown-up photographs to create a seamless panorama across the end of the mobiles.
‘The Manchester Central Library & Archive project involved months of design meetings and drawing revisions to establish the full requirements of Manchester Council. The in depth planning and attention to detail ensured that the maximum storage capabilities of each storage area were met, and still took into consideration user access and the archive environments. Rackline included an ‘Automatic open and close’ facility within the electronic mobile shelving, which allowed the system to open and close at periods of time when the system was not in use i.e. night time. This ensured that the collections maintained a constant flow of fresh area around them, and eliminating any pockets of stale air that might accumulate within the collection areas. As part of my role as Project Manager on this Project, I was involved in all aspects of design, through to installation, commissioning, final handover and customer service moving forward now that the system is in full use’ – Andy Reed, Technical & Operations Manager