Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

How Not to Build a Library

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?

This post was published on Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 3:17 pm. It has been categorised under Architecture and been tagged under , , .
17 Dec 2009 6:13 pm

I think “dystopian nightmare” is the right phrase here…

18 Dec 2009 11:28 am

It looks like something from the set of Metropolis.

Jacqueline Jouret
19 Dec 2009 12:22 pm

Your observations are spot-on. Those images are terrifying.
And good on Oslo for rejecting the Rem Koolhaas library — I’ve visited the library he designed in Seattle and found it a travesty of unwelcoming spaces, poor organization and general nonsense. If I hadn’t needed to use its resources, I’d have fled immediately.

19 Dec 2009 12:31 pm

This design would keep me away from Libraries for the rest of my life

H. Mota de Alcantara
19 Dec 2009 5:32 pm

On the other hand…

Take a look at these libraries from the site
“Librophiliac Love Letter: A Compendium of
Beautiful Libraries”:

Dino Marcantonio
20 Dec 2009 9:59 am

At last a literal chasm for all to see separates modern man from the accumulated culture and knowledge of our forebears.

Niclas D
20 Dec 2009 10:50 am

Well there is still a lot of ugly buildings being built i Sweden. As recent as 2007 politicians in Uppsala, the oldest university town in Sweden, built this horrible concert hall:
The building already has several nick-names like “the Borg-ship (with reference to the Star Trek robots spaceships) and Forsmark 4 (Forsmark is the close by nuclear plant with three reactors, implying the concert hall being the fourth).
It is said that a former Rector Magnificus commented on the (at that time planned) building in the presence of the danish architect saying that with this building the architect must be trying to get revenge because of the march across the Belts.

Nelson Hanford
3 Jan 2010 9:05 pm

It seems as if the design intends to lead to the perception of being “sucked into” the wall of books, which perhaps might symbolize knowledge- but if that were to be the case, knowledge becomes a bottomless pit.

Chris W
13 Dec 2011 5:11 pm

It looks like the Beinecke Library at Yale, put onto a photocopier and blown up to ten times its original size.

17 Mar 2013 4:32 am

I think it’s beautiful, unique, and inspiring.

Leave a comment

Name (required)

Email (required)



Home | About | Contact | Categories | Paginated Index | Twitter | Facebook | RSS/Atom Feed | © Andrew Cusack 2004-present (Unless otherwise stated)