Spaces of Knowledge
Four Material Libraries
Libraries have been one of the symbols of bourgeois society. Originally confined to monasterios and palaces, distant havens of elitist knowledge, libraries eventually became quintessential public spaces in the capitalist and increasingly democratic cities that arose out of the Enlightenment. They were always included in catalogs of 19th-century typologies, where they joined parliament buildings, opera houses, and train stations in filling the canonical puzzle of the bourgeois city. And they remained present in the catalog updatings of the 20th century, when the library, by now often a ‘media library,’ progressively incorporated the knowledge that is the substance of the new systems of information transmission: the disc, the tape, the CD.
Nowadays libraries are going through a thorough, profound process of transformation that on the one hand has thrown them into crisis because access to information has shifted from the book to the web, but on the other hand has maintained their function as civic monuments instrumental in fostering physical interaction among people, as demonstrated by Dudler’s Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Centre and OMA’s Qatar National Library. This is a complex process that we have addressed in previous issues (see Arquitectura Viva 135 and 204), and which we now readdress through four cases where the quest for decorum and civic monumentality is combined with an exploration into materials that help to anchor library buildings to their contexts and give them a characteristic atmosphere.
The first example is the library by OMA in Caen (France), a glass cross that contributes to reinforcing an urban zone undergoing transformation, the inside of which is characterized by a scenographic deployment of shelves that all but turn the books into jewels. The second one is by Max Dudler in Heidenheim (Germany), inserted like a mighty wedge into a difficult plot, with a powerful wrapping of brick that resonates with the material culture of the place. The third, by Sebastián Irarrázaval in Constitución (Chile), forms part of an overall reconstruction of the city in the wake of the 2010 tsunami, and is built with a timber structure ripped by three enormous glazed openings. Finally, the library by Vector Architects in Beidaihe (China) presents a bold exterior of reinforced concrete with a fine lattice and a huge glazed opening facing the nearby sea.