The $88 million redevelopment of one of Melbourne's most iconic buildings, the 160-year-old State Library Victoria, is drawing to a close after five years of planning and construction.
The redevelopment to increase public space by 40 per cent and seating by 70 per cent, was funded by $55.4 million by the state government alongside philanthropic contributions, including $8 million from former chief executive of Lazard Corporate Advisory John Wylie and his wife Myriam.
A consortium led by Sydney-based Architectus and Danish civic architects Schmidt Hammer Lassen were selected to design the new look library marking the second collaboration between the firms.
The practices were commissioned to design the new Christchurch City Library in New Zealand, after the former library was damaged in the 2011 earthquake.
Construction of the State Library of Victoria, which commenced mid-2017, has been overseen by privately-owned contractor Built, known for its experience in complex heritage refurbishment.
“For 163 years, the Library has been a democratic place for people of all ages and backgrounds to gather, learn and grow,” State Library Victoria acting chief executive Sarah Slade said.
“This visionary redevelopment would not have been possible without the incredible support of the Victorian Government, our generous donors and the public, who are testament to the Library’s value in a rapidly changing world.”
The first half of the refurbishment opened late last year with two new reading rooms, and new entrances on Russell Street and La Trobe Street.
The second stage, which is close to completion, includes the refurbishment of the Queen’s Reading Room which will re-open, after it’s been closed to the public since 2003, as the Ian Potter Queen’s Hall.
It will be used as a reading room during the day and a space for special events at night.
A new $2 million children’s quarter has also been created to accommodate the growing numbers of children and families visiting the library, courtesy of the Gandel family.
“After two years of construction, our beloved public building is looking forward to unveiling the last of its magnificently redeveloped spaces,” Victoria minister for creative industries Martin Foley said.
The State Library of Victoria is now the world's fourth most-visited in person, trailing only the New York, Beijing and Brooklyn public libraries.
Half of the 1.9 million onsite visitors to the library in 2017-18 were aged between 16 and 24, up from 45 per cent in 2016-17, while 25- to 34-year-olds comprised 33 per cent of visitors, up from 29 per cent the year before.
The library had become a “central servicing hub” for Victoria's international education market, the state's largest export industry.
Education remains Australia's largest service export and third overall behind iron ore (worth $62.8 billion in 2016-17) and coal ($54.3 billion). It is larger than gas ($22.3 billion) and gold ($19 billion).