Advanced Design Studio:

Not Forever

9/2020 – 12/2020


Humanity in Machine Age


Kevin Carmody, Andy Groarke, Gavin Hogben

A new British National Library Archive that has the capacity of 800km of books and can last 300 years.

Humanity in Machine Age

cover image.png


It was a unique and challenging semester that the whole university executed remote teaching, due to the impact of COVID-19. The worrying background voices, to some degree, integrated into the studio’s discussion about “post-human architecture”, “machine landscape”, etc.

“A Big Box” Typology

While the city is operating as a high-speed machine, big boxes are emerging in the suburb as supportive facilities to pump products and information into the cities and bridge between different places, such as distribution center, fulfilment center, data center, etc. Machines operate the buildings, while people have no idea where they are in the building. People are excluded from the building. The names like “Architecture without human”, “Machine Landscape”, “Post-human architecture” are given to those big boxes.


(Amazon Fulfilment Center, Dunfermline, Scotland)


Storage Void

The British Library is obligated to acquire and keep a copy of every book published in the UK. The British Library in Boston Spa, founded in 1970s, has three major storage voids with a capacity of 746km of books. Each year, 8km of books will be added to the collection and should be kept safe for at least 300 years. Most of the existing book storage facilities are huge vaults filled with endless shelves and managed by computers. It is not a space for human, but a space designed for machines.


The Meaning of Storage

The digitization makes the knowledge spread wider and quicker. Why do we want to keep all those books physically for 300 years? Apart from the worry about the failure of machine, books also symbolize the milestone of people’s thoughts. The Buddhists in Tibet take out the scrolls constantly and debate with each other in the courtyard. It makes me question the idea of excluding human from a storage void. Wondering between the bookshelves, picking up a random book on the shelf, reading the book next to a window, having a cup of tea, all of which are the romance burry in each book. Why does the future book storage facility have to exclude human? Could it be an archive that people can reach every corner of the building and can retrieve every one of the books by hand.


The Site - Thorp Arch


-1940 During World War II, Boston Spa, West Yorkshire was chosen to be a munition factory because of its geographical convenience that it was located in the center of the United Kingdom.

-1951 The factory was reopened to provide war material for the Korean War.

-1960s The site was purchased by George Moore and turned into a trading estate and shopping center.

-1970s British Library built its storage vault at Boston Spa and started the collection of every published book in the UK. Automated storage buildings were gradually introduced to the site in the following years.

-1998 Thorp Arch Estate became hot spot for big boxes: Manufactures, distribution warehouse and the shopping center.




Height is the dimension that can bring humanity into a inhumane storage facility. And the height is no longer a key dimension under the rural context. Vastness and flatness become the prototype for the warehouses, distribution center and data center in rural area.

There are three 25 meter’s high storage voids on site, with a book capacity of 250 km in total. The office buildings are separate buildings next to the storage voids. If we put all the bookshelves, we need for the next 300 years on one layer, the right image shows how much land they will consume. Within the one level volume, it has a book capacity of 800km. The relation between book storage space and the people’s space is altered. The book void consumes everything, all the programs are being consumed by the book storage space. The book storage is not a single building any more, while it becomes “bookscape”.

1. Book-shelf

Study Model


This is a study model at a earlier stage of my project. It contains the idea of having continuous one-story high vaults for book storage. And the vaults can be interrupted by the small courtyard where people can site and read. Also, vault is a stable structure that can stand for a long time.

2. Book-void

Book void system


A 4.2 meter to 4.2 meter’s system is created by the vault units. Within this system, the structure can expand and flood the whole site eventually. And it also provides the possibility to take out the vault and have a courtyard, or have different levels, or have some structure popped up, or a rooftop platform.

Here is the basic dimension of the site and the possible volume of the book void. The north west of the site is 9 meters higher than the south east. I divided the land into 9 grids and create three levels on site in order to minimize the excavation. People can enter the site both from the lower end or the higher end.

Within the 9 grid system, programs are inserted to the nodes along the line where there is high difference. The staff entrance is at the bottom right, and the public entrance is on the top. People’s circulation also follows the line where level changes, because due to the level changes, there will be sufficient light to navigate people.


Book void

Reading area

Depot area

reading area render.jpg
Staff area.jpg

“The building is like a book with infinity pages. One is allowed to wonder without purpose or get lost from time to time or stop to pick up a random book. The light might become the bookmarks to attract people to come and stop. "

“The building could be a measurement of time. How long does it take for one to walk from one side of the building to the other side? The building can show time physically. The horror of getting lost and never find the way back also makes the building become sublime to some degree."


3. Book-scape

Development in 300 years


The mosque-cathedral in Cordoba Spain, from 787CE, with vaulting system, it experienced several expansion during the next 200 years and still stands today. This is a possible scenario of how the building live through 300 years. At the early stage, the programs needed to maintain this facility is created with a small amount of book storage. The storage space will expand in the future.

Perspectival section.jpg
Public entrance.jpg

The last scale of my project is bookscape. It is too big to be a building, and one unit is too small to be called a building as well. It is a mass structure system in the landscape, and the rippled rooftop almost become an artificial landscape itself.

I hope this building can bring people’s memory of lying on the rooftop and read back to a machine age.

Advanced Design Studio:

Not Forever

9/2020 – 12/2020


Humanity in Machine Age


Kevin Carmody, Andy Groarke, Gavin Hogben

A new British National Library Archive that has the capacity of 800km of books and can last 300 years.