Martyrs Kirk Research Library


Building owner/client:

University of St Andrews

Architect or lead designer:

Page \ Park Architects, Glasgow

Local Authority Area:


Nominating Body:

St Andrews Preservation Trust

Project Description

Martyrs’ Kirk was born of the Disruption in the Church of Scotland (1843). That year, a church was erected in North Street. The present B-listed building dates from 1928. It continued in use until 2010 when a merger with another local congregation took place. The University acquired the redundant property in 2012. It chose to convert the church for two purposes: to provide a quiet reading room for postgraduate students and staff, and to facilitate public access for research into the University Library’s Special Collections. It aimed to provide an inspiring space for study and to relieve pressure on space in the Main Library, the most heavily-used building on campus. The University recognised a need for these facilities, to continue attracting top-rated postgraduates and academics, as a key priority for their 600th anniversary fundraising campaign. Page\Park were appointed architects to develop the brief and prepare design proposals for the interior adaptation. Aside from creating an appealing space for learning, particular consideration was paid to: sympathetic conversion of the sanctuary; installation of efficient heating, LED lighting and energy conservation throughout the open-plan chamber; meeting DDA compliance; and embracing the highest quality materials and standards of finish. Historic Scotland were fully consulted and were supportive throughout. After clearing the floorspace, many features have been retained – pulpit, dedication plaques, organ pipes, wooden-barrelled roof. The exterior protective perspex was lifted from the stained glass windows, which were carefully cleaned and resealed against draughts, to reveal their kaleidoscopic beauty to passers-by as well as visitors. The grid of hot pipes under pews has been replaced by underfloor heating diffused through the original ground-level grilles. Researchers can activate desk panel heaters for a pre-set timespan. Sustainable heat recovery is active and captured using ceiling vents. The withdrawn pews have not been forgotten – several are installed in alcoves or lining corridors where conversations flourish away from the quiet zones; others remain in store for future reuse. Removing the pews and channelling services round the perimeter of the Reading Room could have accentuated the empty magnitude of an old church. However, the configuration of furniture and fitments, while spurning a temptation to utilise excessive height for extra shelving, has created an intimacy within the greater volume. The custom-made writing tables are dispersed among the locally-crafted bookcases; their placement between the pillars creates a new echoing ‘colonnade’ framing reading alcoves, the central reading spine, a raised reading platform in the old chancel and a study area in the side wing. As counterbalance to the stained glass, each bookcase has a screen-printed and backlit wood veneer panel designed by Bespoke Atelier. A remote print hub has been installed below the organ pipes. The integral church hall has been converted from a multi-use void into an intimate Reading Room, a secure domain available to any member of the public or academic studying the University’s Special Collections of rare and early printed books, manuscripts, photographs and institutional archive. Other facilities provided include a Seminar Room for teaching using the collections.

Supporting Statement

When trustees of The St Andrews Preservation Trust considered a My Place Awards 2015 nomination there was no hesitation in recommending Martyrs Kirk Research Library, which opened in the 2013/14 academic session. We believe this redundant church conversion sets a benchmark for others to follow given the sensitivity and respect towards the architecture and its former purpose and traditions. The quality of detail adopted exceeds what could have been expected. Martyrs’ Church stands at the centre of the St Andrews Conservation Area. The entrance lies across North Street from the 15th-century St Salvator’s Chapel, whose bell tower and archway lead into the United College quadrangle at the heart of Scotland’s first university. After the congregation united with Hope Park Church, in 2010, the building stood empty for two years. The Preservation Trust shared the concerns of many residents when a bar and nightclub proprietor sought to acquire the site, risking indiscriminate transformation of the fabric, prior to the University’s successful bid. It was clear, immediately, that the University intended to leave the external façade unaltered (aside from cleaning and repairs to the masonry, and matching any new fitments [e.g. heating-vent cowls] to adjacent ornamentation), to retain as many internal features as practicable and to ensure that local people could still have access. In developing the Martyrs Kirk Research Library, the University has created a beautiful space with high-quality finishes, which laudably translates its past function for worship and prayer into a sanctuary for learning and research. The simple lines of the specially-crafted desks and bookcases are complemented in spectacular style by backlit panels incorporating scenes of architecture, historical events and natural elements evoked by the University’s special collections and St Andrews itself. Skilful use of lighting illuminates the new interior, the original stonework and the inspiring stained glass windows. The combination of underfloor heating, radiating panels at each table and efficient insulation have been very effective in furnishing a relaxed environment for study. The ceiling-mounted heat recovery system contributes to the Library’s sustainability. The Special Collections Reading Room (former church hall) is available for use by any registered member of the public. They are able, once again, to consult historic archives at the heart of the town instead of having to visit temporary accommodation on the North Haugh. The church crèche has been supplanted by a Seminar Room for the University’s outreach, teaching and engagement work with the collections, the fit-out made possible by local charity, the New Park Educational Trust. A stained glass window has recently been installed at the main entrance, funded by the family of Rev. John Patterson, recalling the charitable outreach of his ministry. Where a body achieves such predominant economic ascendancy in a community as is exercised by the University of St Andrews, the occupancy of yet another prime property could arouse ill-feelings and mistrust, especially given its prominence within a renowned mediaeval setting. We commend the University for its masterful renovation and adaptation, which aesthetically enhances the building’s sanctity and respects worshippers’ cherished memories.