Devon County Hall & Exeter Central Library 22nd April 2017.

C20SW tour of Devon County Hall and Exeter Central Library

Devon County Hall

Our group gathered on a dry Spring morning at County Hall, Exeter. McMorran & Whitby (1954-64). We were met by Bill Horner, Devon County Archaeologist who explained two existing country villas occupied the land – Bellair & Coaver 18th and 19th century respectively.

He showed us around the handsome clutter free façade which displayed the lightness and clarity of contemporary Scandinavia. We walked through the Great Gateway consisting of three vaulted arches below the Committee rooms. McMorran intended this to be the main entrance set against the magnificent square clock tower, but plans changed throughout the prolonged building process.

We entered the building via the Antechamber and admired the beautiful Ashburton marble floor dotted with Portland stone. We saw the amazing Council chamber, which is lined with Doulting stone, Devon chestnut panelling with a most impressive coffered ceiling. We walked through to Bellair via the rebuilt old orangery with gorgeous Georgian oval windows.
When we ascended the grand stairs, two marvellous towering columns of Ashburton marble greeted us. We walked the vaulted corridor and examined the Committee rooms which were dressed in varying styles of decoration in wood paneling with clever flexible partitions. The Chairman’s retiring rooms were equally well appointed, one had a modest ensuite room used by the Queen.
We were most impressed with the quality as well as variety of materials used together with the craftsmanship. The building would not look out of place in Stockholm where much influence was inspired.

A copy of the notes for this visit can be downloaded from the link below.
C20 county hall tour notes pdf

Our next venue was the 1960’s Exeter Central Library which was recently refurbished to bring it into the 21st Century. We were briefed and shown around by Stephen Western of NPS.
A new landscaped entrance was built which improved the visual approach as well as giving disabled access. On entering the huge two storey reception we were impressed with the light flooding into the area. The café led out to a newly created second entrance onto landscaped gardens which allowed the library for the first time since it was built, to make the most of its setting. A ‘stack of books’ floor-to-ceiling sculpture which was recycled from original materials from the refurbishment sat in the reception area.
We then walked into the spacious main library where light continued to flood in, some through ‘space age’ light wells but mainly through the huge windows. We viewed the retained wood panelling as well as the clock which was moved but saved to sit proudly above the lending reception area. We were also shown the Fablab, the first of its kind in a UK Library which kept some of our party occupied as it was interesting to see what a 3D printer can produce!
The stairs led us to a quiet area and finally we were shown the Rougemount Room on the third floor which is used for exhibitions and events.
Overall, the results were very impressive and whilst the library has had a dramatic makeover, it has been done sensitively and still has a wonderful 1960’s vibe.
After leaving the Library we walked to the main pedestrian area to see some street art by Portuguese artist Alexandra Farto who uses the tag ‘Vhils’. The portrait is of a giant woman’s face, which was skillfully cut into the render of the wall of Urban Outfitters.
Robert Dowden