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Cambridge Map Library

Part 1 Project 2011
Vahagn Mkrtchyan
Leeds Beckett University, UK
The Cambridge Map Library and Depository will house 1.2 million maps, currently stored at the Cambridge University Library.

The library is entitled to claim a copy of every new British map publication with an average annual intake of 15,000 items. Over the years the accumulation of variant editions recording the changing landscape has become a particularly valuable feature of the collection, which includes rare maps dating back to the 15th century.

Currently the maps are stored in various parts of the large building, at times in unfavourable conditions. This hinders their accessibility and safety.

The proposal provides a building that is intricately linked to its context, highlights the value of the collection and allows for its safe storage, research and ease of access for the public.

Cambridge has the largest number of cyclists in the UK. As part of an intuitive response to the site, which has a bicycle line cutting through it, I dismantled and fixed a bicycle found in a nearby skip. During the process, many of the mechanical elements of the bicycle were documented and later integrated into the design of the building.

Located at the crossroads of two water systems, a public pathway and a bicycle line, the building will becomes a ‘machine’ embedded into the dynamic systems of the site. Generating electricity and powering its mechanical elements from a water wheel. This also reflects the historic mills of the site.

The sluice and the punt rollers break the volume of the building into two parts that become the private depository and the public section. The two volumes are connected by a delicate bridge that mirrors the flow of the canal and the pathway below.

The pathway ‘carves’ a route through the monumental and dark depository, filtering light and movement into it. The passers by can see the librarians retrieving maps inside. The depository also houses a bicycle parking system.

Requested maps are retrieved by the librarians and brought to the reading room on a trolley running on a rail system that intersects the whole building.

Vahagn Mkrtchyan


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