Surry Hills Library and Community Centre / FJMT

© John Gollings

Architects: Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp
Location: Surry Hills, New South Wales,
Project Team: Richard Francis-Jones, Simon Barr, Lance White, Alison Jones, Misha De Moyer, James Perry, Josephine Turner, Peter Wise
Landscape Architects: Matthew Todd, Mark Brandon
Structural & Façade Engineering: Taylor Thomson Whitting
Contract Administrator: Altus Page Kirkland
Builder: WBHO Pro Build
Project Area: 2,497 sqm + 770 sqm of landscape
Project Year: 2007-2009
Photographs: John Gollings & Andrew Chung

This project is prominently located in the heart of Surry Hills, an inner-city suburb of Sydney whose community is characterised by a diversity of age, income and cultural backgrounds. The architectural context is also diverse: residential apartments, terrace housing, shops and commercial/industrial premises vary in scale though their architectural style is predominantly Victorian. The site is very constrained, measuring just 25 by 28 metres and bound on three edges by roads: Crown Street, the main street of Surry Hills, to the east and two residential streets to the south and west.

The project’s brief was developed in close consultation with the very active local community. The key approach that emerged from these discussions was that the community wanted a facility that everyone could share. Rather than only a library or a community centre or childcare centre, it became clear that it was important to have all of these facilities together in one building, in one place. In this way the building became a truly shared place where the whole community could meet and use in different ways. Important, too, was for the building to represent and reflect the community’s values.

ground floor plan

In response we developed what for Sydney is a new type of public building. It is not a singular typology, for which there are many precedents, but a hybrid public building that is many different things in one: a library/resource centre, community centre and childcare centre all integrated into one modest building and accessible by all.

Transparency became an architectural theme at many levels, allowing an inviting and welcoming building that is accessible and open to public view. At the same time it was important that the building was not merely ‘transparent’, or only expose what is accommodated within, but that it represented and embodied the values of the community. Accessibility, openness, transparency and sustainability were key values as was a general sense of aspiration.

© John Gollings

From our early studies, four integrated formal elements emerged: a new simple open space and platform, a prismatic glass environmental atrium, a suspended ‘U’ shaped timber form and a transitional foyer space.

On the southern edge, the Collins Street road closure was converted to a modest public park with a raised grass platform. This new space extended the function of the building and reasserted itself as a public place.

The tapered glass atrium evolved in response to the ambitious sustainability objectives of the project, and equally to the sense of layered transparency and the project’s aspirational quality. The series of glass prisms creates an open, transparent façade, akin to an open dolls house, and addresses the new open space so that all the different activities of the centre are visible and displayed, encouraging participation.

© John Gollings

The timber ‘U’ form embraces the prismatic environmental atrium and orient both towards the south and the new little park. The ‘solid’ sections of this timber form are made of automated louvre systems that filter and control sunlight and view. This warm timber form is lifted above the ground to create transparency and accessibility.

The foyer space is a lower transitional form that mediates the scale of the building against the adjacent shops while creating a welcoming, transparent entry. Suspended cloud-like roof profiles bring daylight into this space and extend out above the street to mark the entrance.

© John Gollings

The environmental atrium has become emblematic of the centre and clearly identifies the new building and public place. Looking from the new park through this prism façade, the functions of the building are apparent.

The library on the ground and lower-ground levels contains a diverse borrowing collection of approximately 30,000 items, local history collections, some reference material and public access computers. The community centre on level one comprises a function facility for 125 people and adjoining verandah, meeting rooms, commercial teaching kitchen, Neighbourhood Centre administration offices and amenities. On level two, the childcare centre provides accommodation for 26 children in two groups (1–2 and 2–5 years) and includes an outdoor landscaped play space with automatic shade roof.

weather section

A key project objective was to establish a new Australian standard of excellence for environmentally sustainable design in civic buildings. The building incorporates many sustainable design innovations and seeks to integrate these into the architecture and explore the expressive potential of such systems. This is most evident in the environmental atrium.

The environmental atrium’s series of triangular, tapering airshafts draw in clean outside air and passively cool it. Experimental use of plants to bio-filter pollutants is integrated in the gardens of specially selected plants within these glass enclosures. Natural daylight is filtered through these layers of glass and garden and flow deep into the interiors.

© John Gollings

The array of environmental initiatives intrinsic to the design also include a thermal labyrinth for passive filtering and tempering of the air, solar-tracking timber louvre systems, automated fabric shading, mixed mode ventilation, extensive photovoltaic array, geothermal cooling bores, green roof, rainwater collection and recycling, and sustainable material selection.

Computerised building management and control systems (BMS) automatically monitor and control the internal environmental conditions of the building, adjusting the ventilation and sunshade louvres throughout the day to control heat load, light and shade, and switching lights on and off when required. The BMS also monitors and records both electrical and hydraulic systems to maximise the environmental efficiency of the building and identify system faults.

The centre has been embraced by the local community since its opening. It is a welcoming community place for all ages and all social groups. It provides facilities that embody the values of equity of access to information and resources that are essential to building communities.

Products in this project

Construction materials, Semi-finished materials: Pandomo

  • Surface Finish Pandomo Wall: Colour Bianco by Pandomo

Facades: Miles Fabrications, Townsend Group, SA Precast, Alpolic, Prodema

  • Stainless Steel 316 Grade S/S sheet Linish No4 by Miles Fabrications
  • Terracotta Cladding, Moeding Longoton 200mm, Colour: vulkangrau by Townsend Group
  • Polished Precast Concrete: South Australian Black Basalt Polished precast panel with black cement by SA Precast
  • Composite Metal Cladding (Silver Metallic) by Alpolic
  • Timber Veneer Cladding, Prodex - Pale by Prodema

Floor: Colortile, Pebblecrete, Bisanna Tiles, Forbo, Terrazzo Australian Marble, Briggs Veneers, Gibbon Group, The Woodage

  • Ceramic Tile: Black Vitrified Ceramic Wall Tile CPR0007(36N) 300 x 600 by Colortile
  • Precast concrete unit paver, colour Black by Pebblecrete
  • Stone Tiles: Montauk 600 x 300 by Bisanna Tiles
  • Ceramic Tiles: Unglazed mosaic CPTC 803 Unicolour Series 200 x 200 by Colortile
  • Vinyl: Marmoleum Acoustic Fresco with Topshield - 3872 Volcanic Ash by Forbo
  • Polished Concrete: Boral ‘Natural’ cement, with Quartz and Limestone as 10mm coarse aggregate by Terrazzo Australian Marble
  • Timber Veneer American Rock Maple (FSC Certfied) by Briggs Veneers
  • Carpet: Tretford Pile Carpet (anti-static) Colour: Charcoal by Gibbon Group
  • Timber Floor: American Rock Maple (FSC Certfied), ASF Horner PR2 Timber Sprung Floor by The Woodage
  • Precast concrete unit paver, colour White by Pebblecrete
  • Stone Tiles: Honed Chinese Basalt Honed 300 x 150 by Bisanna Tiles
  • Ceramic Tiles: Supergloss White Ceramic Wall Tile CPFB001(36) 300 x 600 by Colortile
  • Timber Decking Vitex cofassus FSC Certified by The Woodage
  • Vinyl: Marmoleum Acoustic Fresco with Topshield - 3861 Arabian Pearl by Forbo
  • Carpet: Tretford Pile Carpet (anti-static). Colour: Mushroom by Gibbon Group
  • Timber Floor: American Rock Maple (FSC Certfied), ASF Horner PR2 Timber Unsprung Floor by The Woodage
  • Tile: Terrazzo Black marble chips in black cement by Terrazzo Australian Marble
  • Stone Tiles: Honed Limestone - Petra Crema 600 x 300 by Bisanna Tiles


  • Childrens Reading Chairs: Rocking Horse by Wilkhahn
  • Pedestals by MEDUSA TAMBOUR
  • Reading Chairs: BABY CHAIR 4-LEG, Timber shell to natural beech on a brushed chrome 4-leg by STYLECRAFT
  • Table: CUATRO -MEETING TABLE ROUND, Polar White Laminate top with timber edge. by INLINE FURNITURE
  • Task Chairs: Type 1 ENE - Woven Image-Metropolis 324, Black back base and castors by ZENETH INTERIORS
  • Table: OLIN COFFEE TABLE, Glacier White (A) GW101 Corian top with stainless steel frame by LIVING EDGE
  • Lounges: CASE ONE -White Leather by STYLECRAFT
  • Childrens Reading Chairs: Le Bello Marshmallows M1 - Kids (Colour White) by FY2K
  • Work Station: Workstations NEO-Polar White Laminate top with timber edge. Polished aluminium base by Desking Systems
  • Task Chairs Type 2: DHARMA - White vinyl on black base and castors by GGI
  • Table: CONFAIR 440, Folding Table, with polished aluminium legs and Polar White Laminate by Wilkhahn
  • Table: OLIN REFERENCE DESK, Glacier White (A) GW101 Corian top with stainless steel frame by LIVING EDGE

Joinery: Icon Doors

  • Speciality Stainless Steel, Terracotta Doors, Timber Veneer and Polyurethane Finish by Icon Doors

Mobile Partitions/Suspended Ceilings/Raised Floors: CSR, James Hardie, Decorwood

  • Plasterboard Ceilings: Gyprock Flexible Plasterboard by CSR
  • Acoustic Ceiling Tiles: Gyprock Focus E-T15 by CSR
  • Plasterboard Ceilings: Villaboard by James Hardie
  • Plasterboard Ceilings: Powerscape Confidence by CSR
  • Joinery Board Timber Veneer Ceiling Panels, Rock Maple (FSC Certfied), finished with tinted sealer by Decorwood

Roof: Lysaght

  • Roof Sheeting Kliplock 700 Hi-Strength by Lysaght

Walls: Bisanna Tiles, Briggs Veneers, SA Precast, Becker Acroma Coatings

  • Stone Cladding Polished Chinese Black Granite by Bisanna Tiles
  • Joinery Board Timber Veneer Wall Linings: American Rock Maple (FSC Certfied) by Briggs Veneers
  • Polished Precast Concrete South Australian Black Basalt Polished: precast panel with black cement by SA Precast
  • Joinery Board Paint Finished Wall Linings: Water Based Low VOC Polyurethane by Becker Acroma Coatings

View this project in Google Maps

* Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address.
Cite: "Surry Hills Library and Community Centre / FJMT" 25 Apr 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 23 May 2015. <>
  • J

    Excellent design. Clear illustration and manifestation of the integration of climate, culture and context. (((:

  • Ballista Magazine

    It’s interesting that the architect has chosen to express some of the connections while concealing others; for example, the staircase is very ambiguous (albeit beautiful) while the mechanisms of the operable shades are clearly expressed and beautifully detailed. I’m not making an argument for one or the other, its just a very unique architectural approach. Great project though!

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  • Metropolis magazine

    RT @grahamcowen: Great building. RT @archdaily Surry Hills Library and Community Centre / FJMT

  • hao


  • Christian

    Incredible work. Great Details!

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  • Patrick

    Wow, what a great looking building. I like the quality of the spaces outside and especially inside. The attention to detail and the connection to the immediate environment from the inside really creates that feeling of quality.

  • Sean

    [...] archdaily Publicado [...]

  • Charles

    Excellent design. Clear illustration and manifestation of the integration of climate, culture and context. (((:

  • Nicholas Patten

    Surry Hills Library and Community Centre.

  • Jaclyn

    Handsome staircase! Nice natural lighting for interior!

  • windzerg

    Children is the key.

  • Arno M

    Reading: "Surry Hills Library and Community Centre / FJMT | ArchDaily"( )

  • Mies van der Rohe

    RT @arnomart Reading: "Surry Hills Library and Community Centre / FJMT | ArchDaily"( ) I really like aussie arch

  • Natália Queiroz

    LOVE!! | Surry Hills Library and Community Centre / FJMT | #architecture #bioclimatic #arquitetura #bioclimatica

  • Natália Queiroz

    LOVE!! | Surry Hills Library and Community Centre / FJMT | #architecture #bioclimatic #arquitetura #bioclimatica

  • Natália Queiroz

    LOVE!!! | Surry Hills Library and Community Centre / FJMT | #architecture #bioclimatic #arquitetura #bioclimatica

  • JF Santana
    • Fivestar liquid limestone

      Nice and great page you have here thank you for sharing.

  • bluevertical

    Surry Hills Library and Community Centre by FJMT #architecture #interiordesign #modern *what a sharp community centre

  • Olesya Balashova

    RT @bluevertical Surry Hills Library and Community Centre by FJMT #architecture #modern *what a sharp community centre

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  • S.M

    As a resident of Surry hills and a current Architecture student I’m quite surprised at the praise this building is receiving. Yes it fulfills exceptional green credentials. However the louver system is never functioning and is always under repair. The plants in the glass side wall to filter the air are always almost dead and I have a sneaking suspicion they are often replaced. (Not to mention the millions of dollars put into research and development for that one system, which is a wider issue of sustainability that I feel is often overlooked) therefore its green capabilities are not being fulfilled and are therefore null until systems are de-bugged or replaced.
    Its relationship to the street, granted, is clear engaging and quite attractive. But in the wider context of the area and even the buildings around it the building falls utterly short in terms of aesthetic interest and sympathy to surrounding forms and patterns (building height, horizontal lines, materials, colours) I personally support a stark aesthetic contrast to surrounding areas, but the aesthetic needs to be an innovative, exciting and/or engaging. The tired Sydney Modernism is once again poking its ugly head out in this project and the vast majority of the Surry Hills community do not appreciate it.

    • Surry Hills Too

      I live in Surry Hills too, but I completely disagree.
      I (and everyone I know) love this building.
      I walk past it twice a day and the plants are alive and kicking.
      And where does it say that ‘millions of dollars (were) put into research and development for that one system’? What a load of rubbish.

      And what do you mean by ‘tired Sydney Modernism’? Got any other examples?
      If this building is an examplar of this genre, then I’d like to see a lot more of it quite frankly.
      This building is head and shoulders above most Sydney architecture.

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  • Alessandra Bernardi

    Reading: "Surry Hills Library and Community Centre / FJMT | ArchDaily"( )

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