Architecturally Bound: 20 of the World’s Most Stunning Libraries
The sparkling Calgary library recently celebrated its first anniversary as one of the most architecturally stunning libraries in the world. In fall 2019, Hunters Point Community Library opened in Queens in an effort to bring style to the East River shoreline.
They both join an ample list of architecturally pleasing libraries all over the world.
1 Calgary Central Library
Location: Calgary, Canada
Snøhetta designed a new central library for Calgary by using inspiration from the province’s arch-shaped Chinook cloud formations. The façade includes interlocking hexagonal patterns, allowing every side of the building to hold equal importance and look as though it could serve as the library’s front. The modern design, which arches over a light rail line, is also filled inside with western red cedar, allowing the flowing forms to merge nature with modern design.
2 Hunters Point Community Library
Location: Queens, New York
The concrete structure sitting on the shore of the East River in Queens comes clad in painted aluminum, giving the new library a “subtle sparkle,” says architect Steven Holl. Cuts in the façade allow visitors views toward the city as they move up a series of bookshelf-flanked stairs. The main Manhattan view, perpendicular to the internal movement of the library, gives the small space a dramatic experience, while the book-lined switchback stairs include small reading rooms full of bamboo touches and a rooftop café.
3 The Library of Alexandria
Location: Alexandria, Egypt
Located on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Egypt, the $220 million rebuild of an ancient library has very little ancientness attached to it. With 11 stories—four underground—the building, designed by Snøhetta, opened in 2002 and is meant to mimic the lighthouse of Alexandria. The cylindrical design and Egyptian hieroglyphics are all ties to Egyptian culture.
4 Kanazawa Umimirai Library
Location: Kanazawa City, Japan
The Kazumi Kudo and Hiroshi Horiba 2011 design of the 60,000-square-foot box-like library isn’t complicated—but it is singular. The building’s exterior skin includes a “punching wall” grid of 6,000 blocks of glass, breaking through the concrete shell in a geometric pattern, meant to evoke the soft light of the forest when inside the library.
5 Library of Birmingham
Location: Birmingham, United Kingdom
Opened in 2013, the Dutch studio Mecanoo created four rectangular spaces stacked on each other in a staggered pattern to create terraces. The largest public library in Europe, the site nestles between a theater from the 1960s and a 1930s building. To tie to the area, Mecanoo created a filigree pattern of metal rings—a nod to the jewelry quarter—atop gold, silver, and glass façades.
6 National Library of the Czech Republic
Location: Prague, Czech Republic
History is on the side of the architecture of the National Library of the Czech Republic. On a site first established as a boarding school for monks in the 13th century, the site transformed over the centuries until the library was established there in the late 1700s. The old-world design of the building, along with murals aplenty, give a true historic nod to Prague.
7 Public Library Stuttgart
Location: Stuttgart, Germany
The cube-shaped library in Stuttgart includes a five-story gallery hall in the center of the building, surrounded by a shell of books. The core of the library follows the design of the ancient pantheon, but the exterior pairs grey fair-faced concrete framing with a mixture of frosted glass bricks that make up a second façade. That central room includes illumination from a glass roof.
8 Vasconcelos Library
Location: Mexico City, Mexico
Transparent walls, mismatched floors, and hive-like bookshelves make this 400,000-square-foot downtown Mexico City library a spectacle, especially on the inside. Architects Juan Palomar and Alberta Kalach designed a steel, concrete, and glass structure within a botanical garden and then created giant spaces within stacked full of books. Opened in 2006, the space transformed a barren landscape into something far more.
9 Tianjin Binhai Library
Location: Tianjin, China
Dutch firm MVRDV took plenty or artistic liberty with the new library in Tianjin, opened in 2017, including an iris-looking sphere serving as the focal point of the center of the auditorium, which can also be seen from the outside, helping build on “the eye” nickname. The five-story library has plenty more modern flair with all-white designs and terraced shelving.
10 The Vennesla Library and Culture House
Location: Vennesla, Norway
Combining together a library and community center in Norway allowed architects Helen & Hard to create an extension of the main city square with a transparent façade highlighted by 27 prefabricated glue-laminated timber ribs. The offset construction curves the 2011 building for a unique interior feel. The ribs change throughout the space, growing smaller as you move from the large main entrance, appearing to fold down toward the main street.
11 The National Library of China
Location: Beijing, China
Opened in 1912, the four-tiered study hall inside remains spectacular, even more than a century years later. With a strict no-talking policy in a building that houses 12 million books, the building’s design mimics archaeological layers as the floors move up. On the top floor, under a roof designed to look as though it is floating, the rectangular building tops out and then opens to the exterior garden. When visitors arrive into the entrance from the main steps, they have a view into the entire library.
12 Admont Abbey Library
Location: Admont, Austria.
The largest monastic library in the world, along with one of the oldest, was built in 1776 with Baroque architecture playing heavily throughout. The gold and white color scheme gets accented by 48 windows for natural light and murals aplenty on the ceiling. Using a great hall design with seven distinct domed cupolas, Bartolomeo Altomonte created seven distinct works of art.
13 TU Delft Library
Location: Delft, Netherlands
A great lawn, tilted upward, near a Brutalist concrete auditorium allowed for the 1997 library to tuck under the lawn, while a cone pushed up from the library through the lawn, joining the two on the TU Delft International campus. With glass facades bringing in natural light from around, the cone’s base offers a central focus inside, while defining the interior design, all accented by walls of books and a deep-blue hue covering the walls.
14 Spijkenisse Public Library Foundation
Location: Spijkenisse, Netherlands
Known as Book Mountain, the library in the town’s market square opened in 2012 by stacking into a pyramid shape, wrapping bookshelves—the shelving was made from recycled flowerpots—up throughout the space. Designed by MVRDV, a café sits at the top and the transparent glass allows the mountain of books to remain visible from the outside.
15 Seattle Public Library
Location: Seattle, Washington
Rem Koolhaas gave Seattle a striking new architectural creation when the Seattle Public Library opened in 2004. The 11-story glass and steel building, located on a hill that allows for entry on multiple floors, juts into the Seattle skyline in a unique fashion. The 10th-floor reading room includes views of Elliott Bay and downtown Seattle while the façade offers a transparent look both in and out of the downtown structure.
16 The Philology Library
Location: Berlin, Germany
Norman Foster’s library design in Berlin includes an aerodynamic water-drop shaped enclosure to maximize floor area and allow for landscaped courtyards on the outside. Nicknamed the Berlin Brain, the four-story library for the Free University of Berlin opened in 2005 and includes an external shell clad in opaque aluminum and transparent glazing, while a steel frame is painted yellow and a translucent glass-fiber inner membrane helps spread natural light and “glow” with ambient light.
17 Cottbus Technical University Library
Location: Cottbus, Germany
The nearly 20-foot-diameter colorful spiral staircase twirling through the university library allows for unique vantage points throughout the 2004 library, but also a chance for visitors to stop and chat. The amoeba-like plan from Herzog and de Meuron spreads into an artificial hill to create “accidental shape” that promotes unique flow and movement. The glazed exterior stands out from the nearby buildings and has unique vantage points from all sides. This feeling continues inside where rooms differ in size and orientation and colors play throughout to keep visitors guessing.
18 Bishan Library
Opened in 2006, LOOK Architects evoked the idea of a tree house to reconstruct the Bishan Public Library. With cubicles of glass punched out from the main exterior, the structure uses skylights, colored glass, and trellises to invite daylight and change light throughout the space, just as a tree’s branches and leaves would filter light in a tree house. The cantilevering of interiors spaces not only provide a unique view from the outside but offers a playful interior design.
19 The Sir Duncan Rice Library
Location: Aberdeen, Scotland
Eight stories worth of vertical-styled stripes, consisting of insulated and clear glass to optimize lighting performance, the Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects design for the University of Aberdeen opened in 2011, wrapping around a central atrium that rises the entirety of the structure. One of the oldest English-language schools in the world, originally founded in 1495, the new library includes Scottish stone at the base and an interior of shifting spaces.
20 Helsinki Central Library
Location: Helsinik, Finland
The iceberg-like design of the 2018 Helsinki Central Library, from architect firm ALA, offers an undulating roof in concert with neighboring Finlandia Hall. Under the roof, the reading rooms and bookshelves sit on the top floor with lower levels curve with the building and flow to the outdoor plaza. Using a timber-heavy design, the architecture of the new library offers a fresh take for citizens, while the robotics used to sort and retrieve books gives a modern take on library design.
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Architecturally Bound: 20 of the World’s Most Stunning Libraries
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