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Spaces to bookmark: five creative libraries

From Beijing to Brooklyn, we explore a handful of design-led environments dedicated to books.

28/03/2024

4 min read

image by archexist

Snøhetta is inspired by China’s ginko forests at Beijing City Library

Designed by Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta and ECADI (East China Architectural Design Institute), Beijing City Library has become a key cultural landmark in the city’s vibrant Tongzhou District. Completed in 2023 after five years of construction, the public building stands as a contemporary hub for learning, social interaction and community engagement, boasting impressive accolades including the world’s largest climatised reading space, the country’s largest load-bearing glass system and China’s GBEL Three Star, the highest attainable sustainability standard in the country. One of three new major developments planned for Tongzhou, the library is part of an urban renewal project hoping to turn the relatively undeveloped area into a lively arts and cultural destination.

Aesthetically, Beijing City Library was designed to convey the feeling of sitting under a tree canopy, specifically in one of China’s native ginko forests. This effect is achieved by tall, slender columns in the central artery of the building (known as the Valley), which culminate in large, leaf-like ceiling panels, as well as an organic palette of pale wood and natural light that streams in from expansive, floor-to-ceiling windows.

A 19th-century Beaux Arts library finds new life in Paris

The product of a 15-year renovation project, the National Library of France was fully realised by French studio Bruno Gaudin Architectes in 2022 (with the first phase coming to fruition in 2016). Originally designed by architect Henri Labrouste in the late 1800s, the updated building now features a host of new public routes and communal spaces, designed to meet the needs of the modern public – while still respecting and showcasing the stunning original architecture within.

The Oval Room – the library’s free, accessible reading room on the Richelieu wing – features updated bookshelves, multimedia seating and a bold installation of curved, mirrored light fittings that surround and reflect the bookshelves with their own image. These curved motifs also echo the ornate, arched ceilings of the building, kept intact for an impressive view provided simply by looking up. Externally, a new outdoor space called the Vivienne Garden now sits at what was once the back of three adjoining buildings, welcoming the public both inside and out.

 

WORKac brings industrial charm to this Brooklyn library

Specialists in workplace architecture, New York studio WORKac was tasked with delivering Brooklyn Public Library’s first new branch in more than twenty years. Beginning with community outreach within Brooklyn’s diverse neighbourhoods (including Dumbo, Vinegar Hill, and the Farragut Houses), the firm found that children’s spaces and programming was both lacking and important to local residents, prompting them to place child-friendly facilities at the heart of their design concept for the former torpedo factory and recycling plant.

The resulting building, Adam Street Library, is therefore home to a host of socially valuable spaces including areas for learning activities, story time, books and views out to Brooklyn Bridge Park, as well as new collections, technology and extensive programming catering to teens and young adults. These zones are all housed within sculptural internal walls in a bright orange and white scheme, paired with pixelated nature murals. Such contemporary features offer a clever contrast to the timber ceilings and classic red-brick exterior, emblematic of Brooklyn’s graffitied warehouses.

MAD Architects create futuristic concrete library in Haikou

Aptly referred to as the ‘Wormhole Library’, this intriguing, surrealist building was completed in January 2021 by Beijing-based firm MAD Architects. Situated on the Chinese island of Hainan, the project is part of a major redevelopment plan to improve public space in the coastal region of Haikou, cutting a unique silhouette while offering a haven for members of the public to meet, rest and read.

The scaled structure was cast as a unit of stark white concrete, with curved concrete walls that not only serve as an organic architectural feature, but also connect the ceiling, ground and walls in one cohesive structure. Holes of varying sizes take shape within the walls, allowing the building to breathe and for natural light to flood into the interior, while covered, grey exterior corridors provide shaded spots for passers-by to stop and rest. The two-storey reading room at the heart of the building can accommodate up to 10,000 books and is joined by a cafe, children’s library and facilities on the ground floor including toilets, showers and bike storage to offer extra amenities to the public.

Hawkins\Brown expands listed library into community centre

With the refurbishment and extension of a 1903 Grade II listed library building on London’s Plumstead High Street, Hawkins\Brown created a new type of community building in 2020 to combine library, leisure and cultural facilities. Designed on behalf of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, new amenities at the community centre include separate children’s and adults’ libraries, a café, flexible collaboration space, a gym and badminton court, and two large studios for performing arts, yoga or exhibitions. The completion of The Plumstead Centre marks the first phase of the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s Urban Framework for Plumstead, a collaborative project driven by a redefined purpose of the ‘local library’ – bringing new life to the existing building and creating a new destination for the people of Plumstead.

“The new spaces have been designed to allow as much flexibility as possible,” explains Jack Penford Baker, Project Architect at Hawkins\Brown. “So, over the years, the building will adapt to meet the changing needs of the local community, with space provided for a range of activities – from performances and classes to local events and exhibitions.”

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