Inaugurated in 2007, the public library “Parque Biblioteca España” in the Columbian city of Medellín combines symbol and function: it bears witness to a community’s desire for social renewal, and indicates how inequalities can be lessened by spreading knowledge in contemporary society. Giancarlo Mazzanti’s winning project in the 2005 competition held by the Medellín city council reveals a deeply pondered view of architecture’s role in society.
His architecture resonates with both the immediate urban fabric and the vast plain stretching out below. Its materials and form have an osmotic relationship with their context. The three huge blocks making up the library complex stand out against the skyline of a city sprawling over undulating slopes enclosed by the craggy summits of an Andes mountain chain. Rising amidst a jumble of makeshift houses, mainly in brick, their arrangement resembles the distant mountain range.
The three buildings house different functions: a library, auditorium, and training centre, respectively. Set on an artificial platform, they stand as one compact system offering a public service. A pinewood platform creates passageways between and access routes to the buildings. On the side facing the mountains, the walkway opens out into a sort of collective plaza for community socialising.
The buildings rise like closed jagged volumes, their sharp angles emphasising their solid mass. Geometry and outer cladding turn the complex into a single unit. The oblique planes of the multi-faceted façades create unexpected spaces between one building and another, giving rise to an ingenious play of light and shadow, views and architectural relations. Protected by the overhang of the building, deeply recessed entrances take on symbolic importance. The translucent glazed doorways are differently coloured (yellow, green and red) to denote each building’s function.
The dark hues of the closely set opaque stone cladding lend the elevations an austere quality. A limited number of apparently randomly arranged, different-sized windows accentuate the buildings’ imposing mass. On some façades the number of apertures increases progressively while on others, the windows are not aligned horizontally. They seem designed to exclude any lateral source of natural light.
The library and training centre do, however, receive light from the side and the top of the building: the inner concrete structure leaves a wide gap between floors and outer envelope, allowing natural light to penetrate the whole building, so leaving intact the monolithic aspect of the outer envelope.
For everything is designed to turn attention inwards. While the views over the valley can be admired from the outside terraces and platform, the interiors are wholly concerned with the persons within, the events, activities, colours and intriguing floor plan, where corridors or balconies give onto the interior air space. Inside, the focus is entirely on the interior and what goes on in it.