Talking libraries of the future with star designer Luke Hughes

The designer walks Time Out Family through his recent Beijing project

Gone are the days when libraries are quiet, whispery places where intimidating librarians hush students’ every giggle. As learning becomes more social, libraries must follow suit. There’s perhaps no better example of this shift in Beijing than Keystone Academy’s brand new High School Library, dreamed up by leading UK furniture designer Luke Hughes.

To say Hughes has an impressive CV is an understatement; the furniture inside Westminster Abbey (including the arrangements used in 2011’s royal wedding) is his design, as well as seating for the UK Supreme Court and furniture at Oxford, Cambridge and Yale universities. The list goes on.

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Walking through the space, Hughes tells us that major transformations have been taking place in libraries over the last 30 years. Laptops, DVDs and study sessions via video call all mean new necessities, but the need for quiet spaces for independent study and reading are still crucial. All the UK-made desks inside the Keystone library have hidden charging stations and furniture can easily be rearranged to create collaborative work areas.

He explains the space’s different learning zones, as well as the sense of humour he’s brought into the space. Bright colours, cheeky quotes about education from Mark Twain to Groucho Marx and eye-catching art remind us (and hopefully our kids) that school should be fun. He says all of this with a boisterous, cheerful laugh. And he’s right – we don’t feel the urge to give him a ‘Shh! This is a library’, even as students are just nearby studying away for their fast-approaching IB exams.

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So how can parents bring this energy into the home? Maybe your Beijing apartment isn’t as architecturally inspiring as say, Ely Cathedral, Hughes’ next major project, but he assures us that it really takes only one thing for parents to create inspiring learning spaces.

‘Books, books, books,’ he says. ‘If you can create an environment where books are natural and not an obligation or chore, they’ll simply stumble on the unexpected. You never know what children will go for.’

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