Books and architecture: 5 libraries you need to visit

Every October 24 International Library Day is celebrated in our country to raise awareness on their fundamental role in culture and human development. Throughout history, these public service buildings have been true symbols of power and modernity, but also the subject of social dispute and war. From the mythical Great Library of Alexandria to the recently rebuilt Sarajevo’s National Library, the role they have played and continue to play in our society on a cultural, social and political level is unquestionable.

Interior view of a library and its architecture
Throughout history, libraries have been centerpieces for architecture and design

Today, as much as in ancient times, many cities strive to build spectacular libraries to host their documentary collections and books. Increasingly innovative and futuristic spaces to deposit bibliographic and digital files and at the same time offer an attractive, inspiring space to users. However, what things should an architect keep in mind when designing a building with such a particular use as a library?

In 1973 British architect Harry Faulkner-Brown published a set of principles, some quite general, that include everything that a library building should be: flexible, compact, accessible, extensible, different, organized, comfortable, constant, safe and economical.

We do not know if everyone will comply with the Decalogue of Faulkner-Brown, but it is undeniable that the architecture of libraries is living a golden age. Here we introduce to you some of the most spectacular libraries in the world – from an architectural point of view, this is. Or, at least, the five that have managed to inspire us the most!

Stockholm Public Library (Erik Gunnar Asplund)

Classic among classics, this library is a perfect representation of the new Nordic architecture of the 1920s. Neoclassical and rationalist at the same time, with its characteristically orange facade, the best of the building is, however, hiding inside.

Architecture in one of Stocholm's libraries
Photo Credit | Study In Sweden

The reading room or central rotunda is a circular, huge and quiet space, with bookcases on three levels. It is an authentic cavern of books with irregular walls made of stucco, which surprisingly end in a flat roof. Some authors wanted to see in this room a reference to the Pantheon of Rome, but Asplund’s plans were too modern to include just a circular dome!

Qatar National Library (OMA)

A work signed by OMA, who also took part in the competition to build the new National Library of France. In Doha, the goal was to have space: more than 42000 square meters  where thousands of readers and almost one million volumes can be accommodated… in a single room.

View of the National LIbrary of Qatar
Photo Credit | Molteni Group

A single room of enormous proportions, in which a system of terraces was designed to store bookshelves, making all the books visible at any time and from any point of the central hall. It creates the idea that the user is surrounded by books, something which is reinforced by the fact that the access is located in the center of the building – and not the perimeter.

A gigantic library for such a small country that likes to go big. And where there is marble everywhere. A lot of marble.

Stuttgart Public Library (Yi Architects)

With an almost temple-like appearance, this library has become an icon of Stuttgart (and also a dark object of desire for Instagram fans). Cubic and pure white, this large building of 45 meters houses all the library services in five floors.

Interior view of the Stuttgart Public Library
Photo Credit | Totems

Its interior is designed like a huge hollow space, and is structured around a small central pond. From it, a system of stairs and balconies articulate the route upward to the areas where the volumes are located, leaving the center completely empty. A simple, pure, luminous and tremendously modern concept for this temple of knowledge, created by Yi Architects.

Central Library of Helsinki (ALA)

This is one of the latest incorporations to the list of the most avant-garde libraries in the world. Oodi, which is as the Central Library of Helsinki is known, was designed with the idea of being more than a traditional library: it is a place for meetings, work, relaxation and knowledge exchange in the center of Helsinki.

View of Oodi
Photo Credit | FORM Magazine

The building, conceived by ALA Architects studio, stands out for its wooden body and undulating roof, dotted with small circular oculus that allow natural lighting. But what really makes Oodi exceptional is its conception: it is a huge building in which only the upper floor, fully glazed, is dedicated to books. Indeed, Oodi is not a conventional library: it is a building made for experiences, where each space has been designed to encourage social interaction and reflection about culture and the arts.

National Library of France (Dominique Perrault)

Designed by Dominique Perrault, the BNF was one of the great Mitterrand projects in France, and it was subject of discussion from an early stage. The project is articulated around four large L-shaped towers which, like a open books, surround a large central esplanade with a garden.

The spectacular architecture of the National LIbrary of France
Photo Credit | ArchDaily

And it is precisely the contrast between the four corners built and the center of the complex that has earned the BNF so much criticism. On the one hand, the apparent lack of connection between the four towers and the emptiness of the square. On the other hand, an inefficient accessibility to the complex. Despite this, the building was awarded the Mies Van der Rohe Architecture Prize in 1996 and is now part of the city’ds skyline.

Library-CRAI CEU Valencia

It may not be the largest, nor is it the most architecturally inspiring library. However, it is a space to which we have a special feeling and that, of course, we invite you to discover. A space with 689 reading places, 12 group work rooms, 6 research offices, research spaces and a lecture room.

Our central library is a modern and functional building that occupies a privileged place in our campus of Valencia. With direct access from Agora Square, it is the main meeting and exchange center of the entire CEU community.

Libraries will continue to be authentic monuments to culture and knowledge. And, hopefully, they will continue to be a source of innovative architectural projects!


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