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SSQ Prestonpans Library – Where Architecture Meets Practicality

The generosity of Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie financed the creation of over 2,500 libraries between 1883 and 1929. Of the 660 built in the British Isles, one stands proudly in the small seaside town of Prestonpans, a few miles east of Edinburgh.

Prestonpans’ red-sandstone and slate-roofed library opened in December 1905 thanks to Carnegie’s generous grant of £1,500. Just over a century later the library re-opened after a £780,000, year-long project has extended and refurbished the building, enabling it to expand the range of services it can offer.

As one of Scotland’s ‘Category B’ listed buildings – defined as buildings of regional or more than local importance, or major examples of some particular period, style or building type – the challenge facing the architects in East Lothian Council’s Property Services Department was to harmoniously blend and separate the old and the new. To help preserve the historic building’s traditional character, the extension had to be of contrasting architectural style and finish but, just as importantly, it had also to complement the original and not appear to be either out of place or dominating it.

The existing building’s plot-position, footprint, design and construction limited the site of the extension to the rear of the building which it would join at the gable end of a steeply pitched (40°), natural slate roof. Using this as an inspirational starting point, the extension’s design features two disparate methods of construction to successfully marry it to the original building with the necessary ‘complementary separation’ required.

In practical terms, a dual-pitched roof running off the existing gable end (now an attractive interior wall) forms the ‘backbone’ of the 16.5m-long extension and on either side of this, shallow, mono-pitched roofs increase its overall width to 15m. To create a smooth transition from old to new, the new dual-pitched roof mirrors the form and appearance of its counterpart whereas the two adjoining side-extensions, along with the new gable end at the rear of the building, are timber-framed and larch-clad with stainless-steel roofing.

Planning approval demanded the natural slate used on the extension match that of the original building and, as a result of its quality and appearance, SSQ Ultra Riverstone® Grey roofing slate was chosen. SSQ Riverstone® architectural stone floor tiles were used in the draught lobby of the new main entrance, their natural riven finish providing excellent slip resistance in this transitional area between internal and external environments.

The project won the Architecture Meets Practicality category of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professional’s (CILIP) biennial Public Library Building Awards 2007 which recognise the best libraries opened to the public.


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