This computer-generated image has been doing the rounds on a variety of blogs across the internet. It depicts one of the numerous proposals for the extension of the Stockholm Public Library, this one drafted by a team from the Paris-Val de Seine architecture school. Over at the Long Now Blog, Alexander Rose calls it “awesome” and says “This design seems like it would lend itself well to a 10,000 year library”. As a monument this design is impressive — perhaps intimidating is the more appropriate word — but as a library it’s hard to conclude it would be anything other than a complete and total failure. And as for lasting 10,000 years, all those walkways to access the books look exceptionally brittle — I doubt they’d last a hundred years let alone ten thousand.
And just look at those walkways! They are made of glass! Can you think of how intimidating, how frightening, how disturbing and uncomfortable it would be to work or do research in this library? This unsettling design is an insult to librarians and readers. It seems that the architects intended for most of the books on this wall to be inaccessible anyway. Go figure.
And look at that chasm! I hope the architect included a fancy device for retrieving the bodies innocent bibliophiles who didn’t notice the “Slippery When Wet” sign after the janitor washed the floors.
Compare this to more traditional designs (such as the this library) where the scholar, the bibliophile, the researcher, and the librarian are elevated to the position of members of an imperial court instead of lemmings in a dystopian nightmare. What’s more, the actual library this is supposed to be an extension of is Erik Gunnar Asplund’s Stockholms stadsbibliotek, one of the more handsome designs of early twentieth-century modern traditional.
The civic authorities held a competition to design the extension, and not a single entry of those short-listed was complementary to the original structure. This was ego-tecture made real, with each successive entry presumably as ugly as the souls of the architects who drafted them. After choosing a winning design (by Germany’s Heike Hanada), they exhibited some old-fashioned Scandinavian common sense by cancelling the whole project and devoting the millions of kronor it would have cost to other causes. Not long ago, Oslo commissioned Rem Koolhaas to design a new central library for the Norwegian capital, which the city fathers ultimately scrapped. Is this a new regional trend?