Bodleian Libraries launches chair design competition

20 September 2012

Weston chairThe Bodleian Libraries are launching this week a chair design competition that invites a designer/manufacturer team to create a new reading room chair for the institution’s Weston Library.  

The competition is officially launched at 100% Design, the UK’s leading contemporary design event. A curated space will reflect the library’s 400 year design heritage and reiterate its furniture commissioning history alongside imagery of Wilkinson Eyre’s vision for this cultural and intellectual landmark. The installation will include a replica of the original Bodleian chair – the ‘Curators’ Chair’ commissioned in 1756 – alongside pieces designed by Gilbert Scott in 1936. 

The Weston Library, formerly known as the New Bodleian Library, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in the 1930s, is currently undergoing a complete refurbishment by Wilkinson Eyre Architects and is due for completion in late 2014. The Bodleian Libraries want to commission a new chair design which will become an important part of the newly-refurbished library building’s interior scheme. 

The current refurbishment of the Weston Library was driven by a need to improve the storage conditions and use of special collections in the library, increase public access to the collections and improve facilities for readers, ultimately bringing the 73-year old building up to modern standards. Wilkinson Eyre Architects were appointed in 2006, enlisted to redesign the building and breathe a contemporary interpretation into the 1930’s structure. Many original Gilbert Scott design features, such as door frames, light fittings, desks, typography and clocks will be retained and absorbed into Wilkinson Eyre’s scheme.

The chair competition continues the Bodleian Libraries’ history of commissioning bespoke furniture and will be a unique opportunity for a designer and manufacturer to create an iconic chair for one of the world’s best known libraries. Three reading rooms, one of which is an entirely new space, will play host to the winning chair design and will be used daily by readers from across the university’s diverse faculties and from around the world.

Whilst remaining open-minded regarding the style of the chair, the Bodleian Libraries would like to see a winning design that will become a future classic. The chair must fulfil the basic, pragmatic needs of the user, delivering comfort, support and the practical ability to work, however the competition aims at eliciting an exciting and inspired result, which will ultimately become part of academic and design history.

Richard Ovenden, Deputy to Bodley’s Librarian, said: ‘This competition is an exciting opportunity to create an iconic chair design.  This new chair will be a key element in the Weston Library, and this major project in the University will become a key resource for scholars and will enhance public access to the Bodleian’s collections.  Chairs are of great importance to researchers – sitting in these chairs, scholars working in the Weston will make great discoveries, find new knowledge and make major contributions to our intellectual life.’

The competition judges include: Bodley’s Librarian, Sarah Thomas and Deputy to Bodley’s Librarian Richard Ovenden both from the Bodleian Libraries; Professor Martin Roth, Director of the V&A; Kenneth Grange, leading industrial designer; Jeremy Myerson, Director and Professor of Design at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design; Alice Rawsthorn, design critic and author, The International Herald Tribune; Jim Eyre of Wilkinson Eyre Architects and Professor Elizabeth Leach, Faculty of Music, Oxford University.  

The competition calls upon British-based designers to team up with a British manufacturer and submit design credentials for the first stage of the competition. An initial brief can be obtained from the Bodleian Library’s website ( or Caro Communcations (, which outlines the general rules of the competition and the way in which designers and manufacturers can make an expression of interest. A timeline outlining the programme will also be supplied, as the competition is segmented into three stages that span across the next two and a half years. 

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