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Hospital beds to book shelves: Designing the new Marrickville Library

Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne at Marrickville Library
Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne at Marrickville Library

You might not have picked it but an old hospital actually makes for a great library. The new Marrickville Library in the inner west of Sydney combines the old with the new in a way that leverages the best of existing assets while meeting the vast and varied needs of modern library-goers.


Bulldozing the old Marrickville Hospital was never an option for the Inner West Council, which acquired the 11,482 sqm site back in 1995.

It took a long time to get the council’s plans for a new library, community space and affordable housing off the ground.

Driving the project were community consultation programs and survey that indicated strong support from this inner west community for the library to be sustainable.

Architecture studio BVN was selected to design the library in 2012 and then Mirvac was chosen to develop the site, with 225 apartments (including nine affordable apartments), in partnership with the council in 2015.

Construction of both projects started in 2017.

The council brief called for a combination of new and re-used historic buildings with a big nod to the contribution the hospital made to the community between 1897 to 1991.

Project architect, BVN’s Andre Callanan, says having the old building as a historic reference point led to some interesting design opportunities.

“And Marrickville has a lot of history.”

The hospital was originally built to cope with the number of injuries occurring in nearby brickworks sites. 

Unfortunately, the condition of the building had eroded over the years, including some “clunky add ons”.

So part of the brief was “purifying” the old building back to its former glory, which Callanan says wasn’t an easy job.

This involved reverting to white paint and removing the ceiling to expose trusses and the old pitched roof.

The verandas were once considered important for the wellbeing of the patients, Callanan says, but somewhere along the line they were enclosed. They’ve now been opened back up as reading spaces.

One of the quirkiest parts of the conversion is the use of former toilet cubicles as study rooms. All that remains is the old tile line.

Under the windows, where the beds for observing sick patients used to be, is the new home for some of the library’s 85,000 books, including the council’s previously warehoused historic art book collection.

In some instances, the old wasn’t going to cut it. Due to new regulations, a new staircase had to go in and although as many as 27,000 recycled bricks have been used in construction across the whole development, many weren’t in good enough nick to use again.

Callahan says choosing recycled bricks was partly an aesthetic choice but it was also in keeping with the council’s policy of using recycled material where possible and keeping the carbon footprint down.

Much of the timber on internal balustrades and external battens was sourced from two disused bridges in Taree in northern NSW.

Lots of varied, interesting spaces for different uses

Callanan says one of the beautiful features of the design is the variety of spaces to choose from.

“We’ve tried to touch the old building lightly with new parts of the building.”

The new space is open and airy, whereas the old offers lots of quieter nooks to read quietly.

The old hospital forms the administration areas, small meeting rooms, book collection and reading room. In the new building is the foyer, café, function rooms, technology and youth areas. The library’s large auditorium stair is the centrepiece of the interior.

The previously closed Hospital Lane has also been reopened to serve as a pedestrian link for wider access to the library, pavilion and Marrickville Road.

There’s also a pavilion available for public hire, café and generous outdoor areas including a public lawn and seating, meeting and study rooms, junior playground, a dedicated youth area and specially commissioned public art works.

Along with the recycled materials, there are striking timber features that Callahan says is sourced from sustainable forests. 

Set on a corner block, the development makes the most of natural light and ventilation and low energy warming and cooling (resulting in an overall 25 per cent reduction in energy use). Rainwater is also captured from the roof and reused.

As much as 95 per cent of construction waste was diverted from landfill across the development.

Sustainable apartment living

Mirvac’s Marrick & Co apartment development also retains the former nurses’ quarters, Lilydale House, and turn it into two whole floor apartments surrounded by a Victorian cottage garden.

The residential development is the first project in NSW to be recognised by Bioregional Australia as a One Planet Living Community. It also aligns with the developer’s sustainability strategy that aims to be net positive by 2030.

Designed by Tonkin Zulaikah Greer and Mirvac Design, a solar PV system will power the common areas. Residents will be able to compost food waste and grow their own produce in vegetable gardens outside Lilydale House and on the rooftop.

“Like this wonderful new library, which serves much like a town hall as a place where people gather to chat, play, study, work, read and learn, apartment living has evolved as well,” Mirvac’s general manager of residential development NSW, Toby Long, said about the new development.

“Marrick & Co is a community within the library and the wider Marrickville community – urban life reimagined for a more mindful and healthy existence.”

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