John Rylands Library

The Historic Reading Room of The John Rylands Library. Image courtesy of The University of Manchester Library.

The Historic Reading Room of The John Rylands Library. Image courtesy of The University of Manchester Library.


Tim Bowden. Ramboll

Tim Bowden

Project Director
T: +44 7946 484 824

‘Unlocking the Rylands’ scheme sees major refurbishment to John Rylands Library, Manchester, with a new five-storey extension and conservation work to existing Grade I listed building. John Rylands Library has been acclaimed as the best example of neo-Gothic architecture in Europe and is indisputably one of the finest libraries in the world.

The library has received four extensions since opening its doors to readers for the first time in 1900 but had been addressing the issues of access and building conservation for a number of years. Lacking in visitor facilities and with many inaccessible areas, the library wanted to ‘unlock’ the space and their collections. Between 2003 – 2007, the ‘Unlocking the Rylands’ scheme involved four principal elements; a new entrance building with café and shop, new exhibition galleries and displays, a new roof for the historic Reading Room, and improved conservation and building services.

The library’s existing building services were extremely sophisticated for its time. The building was one of the first in Manchester to be lit by electricity and the heating and ventilation system involved an intricate filter arrangement to minimise the level of soot and industrial pollutants coming into the library. It was a fundamental requirement of the project to maintain the operation of a number of the engineering features, including the ventilation and lighting systems.

Ramboll were appointed building services engineers for the entire scheme, including the conservation of the existing building and the construction of the new extension. The engineering services which required careful consideration included:

  • Appropriate environment control within the building: Ramboll provided advice and assistance with regards to the building fabric construction, including air tightness and material choices, to ensure that the environmental requirements within the building met BS5454:2000.
  • Consideration of local air pollution:  Ramboll reviewed and analysed local air quality for levels of pollutants. The findings resulted in carbon filters being incorporated into the existing air handling equipment that supplied the archive areas.
  • Glazed façade models: The 5 storey atrium extension included a fully glazed façade which required careful consideration with regards to UV radiation, solar gain, heat gain and loss and potential for solar shading. The area was closely modelled which led to the inclusion of high performance glazing system arranged as a double façade. Pre-empting future developments, the modelling took into consideration the demolition of the adjacent building and the proposed replacement building. Despite increased solar gain to the library’s exposed ground floor during the demolition phase of the adjacent building, the findings were accepted and no concerns have been raised.
  • Future proofing: The exhibition areas and engineering services required flexibility to allow exhibitions and displays to be modified to meet changing needs. Flexibility was provided by the provision of strategically placed floor outlets and an adjustable track lighting system

In 2015 Ramboll were appointed to carry out a condition survey and post occupancy evaluation this included:

  • Energy Consumption: Ramboll obtained and reviewed energy and water consumption data over the past 10 years. Consumption was in line with the benchmark figures originally developed at the detailed design stage.
  • Review of Environmental Conditions:  Ramboll reviewed and analysed temperature and humidity data for the main archives and other spaces. The archive areas were operating within the design requirements but the air temperature in other areas had increased which was having a detrimental impact on the building and contents. Ramboll recommended a gradual reduction in the set point temperature.
  • Discussion with Staff: A system by system review of defects that had occurred, noting any patterns of failure. 
  • Future Repair Report: Ramboll documented the results of their observations and discussions in a detailed report that also included a costed schedule of future repair and replacement tasks to assist the University with budget planning.

Related Projects and Information

Sustainability in Historic Buildings

Ramboll Group A/S

Ramboll Group A/S
Hannemanns Allé 53
DK-2300 Copenhagen S
Tel:+45 5161 1000
Fax:+45 5161 1001

Danish CVR numbers

Danish CVR numbers

Ramboll Group

Rambøll Danmark

Ramboll Energy

Rambøll Management Consulting

Other sites

Other sites