Based on the Southbank in London, the publicly funded BFI wished to expand its BFI National Library service and make it freely accessible to the public.


When a 180 m2 former gallery space became free at BFI Southbank, they decided to move the library in. We won the competition, which led to the commission to design the new space in November 2011.


They particularly wanted to encourage greater use from new constituencies by including casual seating where people could chat freely without compromising the ability of more serious academic users to study in peace and quiet elsewhere in the space.


The predominant technical challenges were to control the acoustics inside the library, block noise from the outside and the atrium, and preserve clear sightlines from the librarians’ work station.


With a contemporary twist on the traditional palette of library materials, our design manages the acoustic separation with beautiful bronze mesh curtains. Arranging oak bookcases around the perimeter of the space controls reverberation times and safeguards sightlines for the librarians.


Despite the tight schedule, the project was completed on time. The final effect is quiet warmth and filtered light, with stately red tones complementing the calm ambience.


The client, BFI Head of Information Gabriele Popp, said of the project:

The unique tension between openness and intimacy was a dynamic that inspired the design sensibilities of Coffey, who responded with originality and verve. Their design solution has provided a wonderful space that already has attracted many hundreds of new visitors and is a welcome enhancement of the richness of the film experience already available at BFI Southbank.

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Project credits


  • Architect: George Morgan
  • Architectural Assistant: Eoin O'Leary
  • Architectural Assistant: Michael Henriksen
  • Architectural Assistant: Ben Edgley


  • 2013 Retrofit Awards, Cultural & Public Buildings - shortlist


  • Structural: Hurley Palmer Flatt
  • M&E: Hurley Palmer Flatt
  • AV: Hurley Palmer Flatt
  • Acoustics: Gillieron Scott Acoustic Design
  • Building Control: BRCS
  • Project Management: Buro 4
  • QS: Turner & Townsend

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