The £26m Additional Storage Building in West Yorkshire also features high-tech storage and fire prevention systems

One of the UK’s most airtight buildings will be officially opened today.

The British Library’s £26m Additional Storage Building at Boston Spa, West Yorkshire, boasts an air leakage rate of 0.5m3/m2/h, one twentieth of that required by Builidng Regulations, and is also the first of its kind in the world to incorporate automated storage and retrieval systems, optimum environmental controls, and pioneering low-oxygen fire prevention technology in a single building.

The fully-automated building comprises 262km of shelf space (enough to stretch from London to Manchester) for the national collection which is currently expanding at a rate of 12.5km of linear shelf space per year.

The Additional Storage Building will house low-use material including patent specifications, books, serials and newspapers in 144,000 storage containers of three different sizes. When users of the St Pancras Reading Rooms order a particular item, the fully automated system will identify the container holding the document and bring it to a library operator for retrieval.

Although sprinklers are usually the preferred fire prevention solution for libraries - wet books can be freeze dried - the British Library has adopted a low-oxygen system which sees oxygen levels kept to just 14.8% - fires can only break out if oxygen levels are at 17% and above.

Atkins was architect and multidisciplinary engineer on the scheme, while Capita Symonds provided project and cost management services.