I first heard about Bull O’Sullivan’s new studio library while browsing in a Lyttelton bookshop. Beside me, an older couple (the lifelong-local type) were debating the purpose of the stark-white structure. One was convinced the hillside extension was to create extra workspace, while the other’s money was on accommodation. In a way, they were both right.
Though deemed a “library”, the new addition is more of an architectural multi-hyphenate – reading room, sleeping area, workspace, movie theatre. The angular extension sits below the office in a bold contrast of white and gold. “We needed a library, but also a space that could accommodate activities that weren’t just ‘work’,” explains Michael O’Sullivan, who designed the addition with Vasilije Rakovic. This versatility is typical of the Ōtautahi office, which already harbours a series of sleeping quarters within the main studio for visiting architects, guests and family.
Attached to the office via a short stairwell, there’s an immediate sense of intimacy to the dark library. Floor-to-ceiling windows capture panoramic views to Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour, while a gently sloped ceiling falls back towards the hillside. “It’s the inverse of the lighter office upstairs, a progression of the space,” explains carpenter and master builder Alistair Toto. O’Sullivan is quick to credit Toto with much of the library’s success. The linear carvings that traverse the ceiling, for instance – all him. “Since the interior was black, we thought it would be appropriate to have a bit of relief,” explains the architect. “So I told Alistair that it was up to him to interpret that.” Workshopping the carvings through a series of loose sketches, the idea was slowly refined to the final overhead artwork.
A corner skylight punctures the roof. The triangular recess is incredibly slick, a clean pane of glass, unobstructed by any visible joinery or attachments. It becomes a porthole to the stars at night, best enjoyed when lying on the built-in furniture below — particularly apt given this year’s focus on Matariki. “It’s beautiful,” says O’Sullivan, again acknowledging Toto. “Seriously, you should have seen the huckery detail I’d come up with.”
The library offered an opportunity for the architects to experiment. “We’ve spent four years designing the door and window system,” explains O’Sullivan. “This is our official trial.” The welded joinery was his chance to create something with “sensuality and tactility”. Long handles, steel rollers and curved mullions give unique materiality, while a gold powder coating symbolises the light that permeates Banks Peninsula. “Why not go gold?” asks O’Sullivan, adding that not many jobs would allow such a sheen.
That’s the thing about the library, there’s no client to appease, no restrictions. There’s room for bold moves — like the indecipherable cladding. What’s it made of? “Just a bit of white rubber,” shrugs O’Sullivan. He’s never tried it before. “It’s normally used in gutters.” Yeah, that sounds about right.
Bull O'Sullivan Architecture