Design in harmony with the architecture.

John Rylands Library, Manchester

Completed: 2007    Budget: £770K    Size: 100m≤


Housing a world-class collection of books and manuscripts, the John Rylands Library building is in itself a masterpiece. Built at the end of the nineteenth century to house a number of significant collections assembled by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her late husband, the cotton magnate John Rylands, the Grade I listed building, designed by Basil Champneys has one of the most stimulating and uplifting interiors in Manchester. By 2000 redevelopment of the Rylands became necessary in order to improve physical access and to conserve the original building. The £16m works included a new entrance building, permanent exhibitions, a new roof and improvements to security. Redman Designís work has both visually enhanced the display of books and manuscripts and helped to broaden the appeal and accessibility of the collections.

Exhibition Design

Working within a listed neo-Gothic building brings many challenges. Perhaps the most important were the need to avoid disturbing the fabric of the building and to work in harmony with the strong architectural presence of the building. Redman Design overcame these challenges by developing a design language that takes its cues from the building itself and re-interprets them in a clean, modern, aesthetic that complements the existing architecture. Using high quality materials and finishes means that the display furniture sits well within, and creates a dialogue with, the existing architecture. Taking a 'freestanding furniture' style approach to the display structures means that a high standard of interpretation can be delivered whilst keeping interference with the building to a minimum.


The John Rylands Library presented a unique challenge in terms of how to integrate graphics into the displays. The low lighting levels essential for the conservation of the delicate paper-based subject matter meant that the high levels of ambient light needed to make graphics readable and accessible could not be achieved. Redman Design developed a solution by turning the problem on its head; the graphics themselves were illuminated using edge-lit prismex panels. This allowed us to create simple low-key illuminated information panels. This innovative approach enhances the display of the objects by keeping light levels low and allowing the artefacts themselves to shine from the cases as the treasures they are.


As part of the refurbishment and display works at the John Rylands Library a new signage scheme was required to direct visitors around a complex and potentially confusing site. The challenge was to develop a system that was sympathetic to both the original building and the new extension. Our solution drew its inspiration from key dimensions within the neo-Gothic architecture of the original building and translated those into a clean, elegant signage system. Free-standing elements were used in the listed old building to avoid the need to fix into the fabric of the building and a wall-mounted version was developed for the new extension.