The Word

The Word, National Centre for the Written Word, represents a real paradigm shift in the community library building typology. It is a library for the 21st century, celebrating the dynamic relationship between people, books, traditional media and interactive technologies, in a truly inspiring environment. The Word is a place for people; the human-centric design placing the individual at the heart of the opportunity to interact, learn and delight.

The building incorporates a library, exhibition space, FabLab with 3D printers and vinyl and laser cutters, television and radio studio, children's immersive storytelling area, OpenZone IT suite, café, and a rooftop viewing terrace with views out over the River Tyne. The Word has transformed an area of South Shields which is vital to the wider regeneration of the town centre, promoting footfall and tourism back into this once thriving coastal town.

National Centre for the Written Word

South Shields, England



South Tyneside Council

April 2015 - August 2016

October 2016

The Word has set the standard for design thinking in the UK.

David Lindley
Executive Director, Designing Libraries

Immersive and engaging

The purity and strength of a circular building emerged from all of the influences and requirements set out by the urban grain, and the social and community ambitions. A large central atrium gives visual clarity to the scheme, allowing a grand gesture of civic quality to link all of the internal activities. This is very much an open and engaging plan, modern in its expression. It is not a temple for silence, but a place for sharing knowledge.

The Word provides a rich array of volumes over four floors, ranging from the grand social forum in the central atrium, to the most private and individually concentrated reader spaces at the perimeter of the building. A number of interactive activities are positioned close to the inner circle of the building to immediately engage visitors as they enter.

Externally, the building’s appearance is inspired by the fanning out of the pages of a book, inviting visitors to revel in all aspects of the written word in an uplifting social environment. Two large glass walls provide superb views of the River Tyne and the neighbouring Grade 1 listed Old Town Hall, two enchanting aspects of the building’s historic context.

The building’s immersive nature, diversity of choice and powerful architecture combine to create a significant and civilized building which points to the future, and underlines the importance of the library within our modern society.

Inspiring writers of all ages

Thanks to the architects, councillors and librarians who created the Word - performance space, exhibition hall and my dream library.

Ann Cleeves


  • RIBA Awards 2017
    RIBA National Award
  • RICS Awards 2017
    Community Benefit Award
  • CIAT AT Awards 2017
    Award for Excellence in Architectural Technology
  • SPACES Awards 2017
    Civic Building of the Year
  • SPACES Awards 2017
    Community Award
  • LABC Building Excellence Awards 2017
    Best Public Service Building
  • BCI Awards 2017
    Social Infrastructure Project of the Year
  • ISE Yorkshire Structural Awards
    Medium Structure by Large Company
  • RTPI North East Awards for Planning Excellence 2017
    Award for Planning Excellence
  • Constructing Excellence North East Awards 2017
    Value Award
  • RIBA North East Awards 2017
    Building of the Year
  • RIBA North East Awards 2017
    RIBA Regional Award
  • RICS North East Awards 2017
    Project of the Year
  • RICS North East Awards 2017
    Design Through Innovation Award
  • RICS North East Awards 2017
    Community Benefit Award
  • RICS North East Awards 2017
    Tourism & Leisure Award
  • LABC Northern Awards 2017
    Best Public Service Building
  • Mixology North Awards 2016
    Public Sector Interiors Project of the Year
  • Living North Awards 2016
    Best Regeneration or Restoration