A Tale Of Two Libraries: Waterloo Library And Green Square Library

One of the best things about living in Sydney’s inner city is the juxtaposition of old and new.

Our area offers an incredibly dynamic mix of both the past and the future, coexisting side by side. Historical Waterloo Library and brand new Green Square Library are prime examples of two rich community resources representing the best of old and new.

Waterloo Library

Waterloo Library opened in 1972 in a building on Elizabeth Street that was once the Waterloo Town Hall.

Waterloo in the late 19th century was an area with a strong, independent identity, and following the declaration of the Municipality of Waterloo in 1860 and the secession of Alexandria in 1868, it was decided that it should have its own town hall.

A competition to decide the design of the new town hall was held in 1880 and won by architect Edward Hughes’ Victorian Italianate design. Construction was plagued by cost blowouts and delays, and it was 19 August 1882 before Waterloo Municipal Council held their first meeting in the hall. It remained the council’s seat until 1948 when Waterloo was amalgamated into the City of Sydney. During the Second World War, an air-raid shelter was built in the town hall. It is one of Sydney’s few remaining air-raid shelters, and today, along with the town hall itself, it is protected by a heritage listing.

A boundary change saw the town hall become part of the South Sydney Municipality in 1967, and in 1972 South Sydney Council transformed it into a library. A bronze plaque created by sculptor Victor Cusack was unveiled at the town hall in 1990 by the 8th Duke of Wellington to commemorate the relationship between Waterloo’s name and the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. Interestingly, the Battle of Waterloo is the earliest conflict commemorated in Sydney. Architecture firm Stephenson & Turner oversaw a major restoration of the library in 1996. Today, following the dissolution of the South Sydney Council, the library is part of the City of Sydney library network.

What’s on offer at Waterloo Library?

Waterloo Library, together with Customs House and Glebe libraries, is home to the City of Sydney’s Koori collection. The collection includes more than 2,000 items celebrating and reflecting the living cultures of First Nation Peoples. Topics include bush tucker, bush medicine, astronomy, philosophy and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. Waterloo Library also houses collections of Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese books, newspapers, magazines, CDs and DVDs.

Families can take advantage of the library’s collections of toys, robotic and electronic maker space kits, and retro video game consoles, all of which are available to borrow, as well as children’s books. There are also self-service computers, print, copy and scan facilities, free wi-fi and a recycling station for batteries, mobile phones and light bulbs.

Green Square Library and Plaza

Where Waterloo Library is rich in history, Green Square Library is a vision of the future. This state-of-the-art underground library, opened in 2018, was conceived as a ‘beacon and an oasis for the whole Green Square community’.

The library and plaza’s design was decided by an international design competition, and it was the scheme by local group Stewart Hollenstein in association with Stewart Architecture that was unanimously chosen by the jury. The library has gone on to win a slew of architectural awards, including the international Architectural Review Library Award.

The library’s design looks beyond the notion of a library as a mere receptacle for books and towards its future as a multi-purpose community space.

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At the heart of the 3000sqm single level library are a circular sunken garden featuring space for outdoor reading, a children’s circle and a ‘story tree’. The separate six-storey glass tower includes a reading room, a computer lab, a theatre, a music room and a community space. It is also home to the artwork Cloud Nation by Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro, a repurposed vintage aircraft with a painstakingly crafted miniature world adorning its surface.

The library’s entrance hall is a triangular glass pavilion, and there’s also a trapezium-shaped outdoor amphitheatre in the plaza. The plaza also features the artwork High Water by Indigo Hanlee and Michael Thomas Hill, a 9 metre LED tower displaying live weather and tidal data as a constantly moving watercolour.

What’s on offer at Green Square Library?

The library has been designed with the Green Square community top of mind, and that can be seen in the large open spaces, study desks, children’s area and reading room with its rainbow book wall. Meeting rooms, a computer lab and a music room are all available for hire, with the music room including a baby grand piano, acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards and recording equipment.

As well as books, the Green Square Library lends out toys, video games, film, music and makerspace kits. There are also music scores, as well as a collection of Chinese language books, newspapers, magazines, DVDs and CDs.

The library houses a council customer service centre and a café. There are also self-service computers, print, copy, scan and 3D printing facilities, free wi-fi and a recycling station for batteries, mobile phones and light bulbs.

What’s on at Green Square Library?

Green Square Library runs a program of regular weekly events for preschoolers during school terms. For the littlies (0 – 2-year-olds), there’s Rhymetime in English or Mandarin. Three- to five-year-olds can choose from Storytime in English or bilingual Storytime, conducted in English and Mandarin.

Adults, meanwhile, can look forward to ‘Them Heavy People: This City, That Decade’ coming to the Green Square amphitheatre in January. Over the course of an afternoon, four of Sydney’s diverse residents share their first memories and moments in Sydney from the 1980s to the 2010s.

Want to know more about life in Waterloo and Green Square? Get in touch with our team today.

Article by Brendon Clark
‘The details matter - through every part of the process.’ With decades of runs on the board alongside a fresh outlook, Brendon is co-director of Clark - and one half of one of Sydney’s most dynamic and successful real estate duos. Having carved out a reputation for results in the… Read More
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