Trinity College Dublin’s conservation and redevelopment plans for its Old Library, home to the Long Room and manuscripts including the Book of Kells, have been granted permission by Dublin City Council.

This follows last month’s historic unveiling of the new Book of Kells Treasury and display, which forms the first component of these redevelopment plans.

As one of the great libraries of the world, the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin is one of Ireland’s iconic treasures and a globally recognised cultural landmark. It combines heritage and scholarship in its unique dual role as a world-class library and a national cultural institution. 

Its precious collections, spanning millennia, have been in the care of the Library of Trinity College Dublin for over 400 years. But it now faces significant conservation and environmental challenges. External pollution and dust accumulation are taking their toll on the collections and the fabric of the Old Library building. There is a need to modernise environmental control and fire protection measures. Recent fires in similar heritage sites across the globe provide stark warnings.

This ambitious redevelopment project will draw on the best 21st-century design and technology to safeguard the Old Library building and conserve its precious collections for future generations. It includes urgent structural and environmental upgrades and the redevelopment of facilities in line with the best library and museum experiences around the world. The award-winning architects Heneghan Peng who successfully conserved and revitalised the National Gallery of Ireland are leading a world-class design team in this transformative development.

An aerial rendering of Trinity College Dublin by Heneghan Peng Architects

An aerial rendering of Trinity College Dublin by Heneghan Peng Architects

Librarian and College Archivist, Helen Shenton said: “We take our role as stewards of The Old Library very seriously. Its rare and important works have inspired generations of students, academics, and visitors.

"This is a critically important redevelopment project that will safeguard it for future generations. It will enable us to both conserve this magnificent 18th building and its collections, as well as make it more accessible to our scholars and public in an historic building reinterpreted for the 21st century.”

Central to the redevelopment plans will be the conservation and protection of the 18th-century building, and its precious manuscripts and research collections. It will include the development of a new state-of-the-art Research Collections Study Centre for students and scholars both nationally and the world over. It will also re-envision the Library’s treasures with a one-of-a-kind immersive exhibition.

Conservation of the Old Library and its historic collections

The Old Library at Trinity College Dublin currently houses 350,000 early printed books, and 20,000 manuscript and archive collections which have been collected over the course of 400 years. The university proposes to upgrade environmental controls and fire protection measures while protecting and conserving the architectural character of the protected structure. 

Similar to renovation projects at the National Gallery of Ireland and the National Library of Ireland, Trinity’s Old Library redevelopment plans are addressing these necessary 21st-century upgrades through an integrated and holistic design and planning process.

Fellows Square at Trinity College Dublin.

Fellows Square at Trinity College Dublin.

Research Collections Study Centre for students and scholars

Academic activities will remain at the heart of the Old Library, and the Long Room will continue to be at the heart of a fully functioning library.  

A new Research Collections Study Centre will provide national and international scholars with a secure, accessible, and inspiring environment to intimately study the unique and distinct collections. Located in the beautifully colonnaded ground floor, the Study Centre will overlook Library Square, one of the original historic courtyards at Trinity College.  

In parallel, a Virtual Trinity Library is also planned which will provide digital access to the unique and distinct collections of the Library across the world.

A rendering of the new Research Collections Study Centre by Heneghan Peng Architects

A rendering of the new Research Collections Study Centre by Heneghan Peng Architects

A reimagined Treasures Exhibition

Last month saw the unveiling of the new Book of Kells Treasury and display which forms the first component of the redevelopment plans. This will be developed further in a new Book of Kells exhibition re-interpreting the precious manuscript to respond to increasingly diverse and engaged visitors.  It will showcase the manuscript’s history, making, and symbolism in a new gallery.

The redesign of the exhibition by world-renowned Opera Amsterdam and Studio Louter will guide visitors on an immersive journey that places the manuscript in the context of Europe, Ireland, and Trinity College.

The Book of Kells display case at Trinity College Dublin.

The Book of Kells display case at Trinity College Dublin.

New visitor facilities, orientation, and public spaces

The current visitor entrance in the Old Library will be relocated to a new more welcoming entrance and exit via the Berkeley Podium, which is located adjacent to the Berkeley Library. At the same time, the current retail facility will be relocated to the Berkeley Podium, alongside visitor amenities and space for rotating exhibitions. In its totality, the project supports and enhances both public access and academic scholarship in the Library.

A rendering of the exterior at Fellows Square by Heneghan Peng Architects

A rendering of the exterior at Fellows Square by Heneghan Peng Architects

Heneghan Peng principal, Róisín Heneghan concluded: “Buildings that last, like the Old Library, are those that allow changing lives to find a place within. The Old Library has undergone transformations as the University has changed. The Long Room is the heart of the Old Library, with this project the clarity of its linear spatiality is restored while the pavilions provide the supporting spaces of a university library.

"The project highlights the Old Library’s position between the different characters of Library Square and Fellows’ Square making strategic interventions to allow the Old library to continue to be a space of knowledge and study for the 21st-century student while welcoming visitors to share its stories.”

The Old Library Redevelopment Project will conserve and safeguard the Old Library and its world-class collections by:

  • Implementing urgent structural and environmental upgrades.
  • Foster scholarship with a state-of-the-art Research Collections Study Centre for the Library’s world-class collections.
  • Increase access to the Library’s treasures in an enhanced exhibition space.
  • Create an immersive gallery that will re-envision the Book of Kells exhibition.
  • Align it with the best scholarly and museum experiences around the world.
  • Enhance Fellows' Square as one of Dublin's premier civic spaces.
  • Ensure universal access for visitors, scholars, and the College community.

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