Beautiful and sumptuous, dark and dusty. A finger traced across the spines of books, the silence between the shelves… Although it’s 2021, the digital age, this is the image that comes to mind when many of us think of libraries. Perhaps it’s partly due to the maze-like settings created by Carlos Ruiz Zafon in his novel The Shadow of the Wind, in which he takes us into the Cemetery of Lost Books, in Barcelona, with his character Daniel Sempere, who gets lost there – including metaphorically in the unexplored parts of his subconscious. The library in the Name of the Rose is also dark and cramped, a forbidden, secret, and inaccessible place. The same is true of the Hogwarts library, which Harry Potter visits between Quidditch matches.
We’re fascinated by libraries, yet nobody likes dust. Maybe that’s partly because now that we have Google, why do we need to go to them? And why do architects still invest years and resources in designing new ones?
The fact is that today’s libraries aren’t dusty. And they don’t just have books. Libraries are places to work, listen to music, watch TV series, and relax, just like the living room of your own home. To give you a glimpse of what I’m talking about, let’s go to Stockholm and its striking new Kirkkonummi library, winner of Finland’s 2021 Prize for Architecture; the Matsubara Civic Library in Japan, which is surrounded by water; and to Shanghai’s Bibliotheater, a combined theater and library in the shape of a blue whale.
In the municipality of Kirkkonummi, a few kilometers from Helsinki, there’s a large plaza that, the site of an open-air market and overlooked by a medieval stone church, forms the centerpiece of the city. It’s also the site of the Fyyri library. Built in the 1980s but recently remodeled by JKMM, the library has further enriched the heart of the Finnish city. The aim of the studio – founded in 1998 by Asmo Jaaksi, Teemu Kurkela, Samuli Miettinen, and Juha Mäki-Jyllilä – was to demonstrate how libraries can be lively, multiuse buildings without having to give up their identity as places for reading and reflection.
Libraries are no longer solely about books, but about sharing knowledge and experiences through multiple channels.
Teemu Kurkela, founding partner of JKMM
The project took into account the urban context, focusing in particular on the building’s relationship with the church. The result is a 164-foot-long (50 m) volume that, both in shape and inclination, resembles a ramp overlooking the nearby churchyard, thereby underscoring the relationship between the two buildings. The copper shingle cladding is a reference to the city’s maritime heritage. Thanks to the detailed urban plan, the Finnish architects remodeled the existing building by doubling its volume and adding new community spaces, including an area for events and shows, a large cafe, a space for reading magazines, and a series of children’s areas. The project has successfully turned the library into a contemporary space for the entire community.
This was among the reasons that the Fyyri library won Finland’s 2021 Prize for Architecture, a decision that had the firm endorsement of Esa Saarinen for the eighth edition of the award organized by the Finnish Architects’ Association (SAFA).
Libraries as public living rooms
The new generations are quickly getting used to visiting these new libraries, partly because they’re the ones most in tune with the latest ways of learning. According to Teemu Kurkela, libraries are increasingly becoming “places for finding inspiration, learning new things through reading and other activities, and also getting together. This is why Finns today refer to libraries as public living rooms.”
The interiors of the Fyyri reflect the Finnish modernist tradition, demonstrating close attention to the design of custom-made furniture and the functionality of even the smallest detail. It’s of note that the rooms are brought together by the same brass color, chosen as the common thread to sublimate the interior and exterior. In this way, this material, which was already a feature of the façade (and is getting increased attention today for its antibacterial properties), creates a warm tone, enhancing both the rooms where wood dominates as well as those in solid white. The latter include the main reading room, which is distinguished by a series of reinforced concrete pillars, which filter the light and create shadows that resemble those formed by the sun in a tree’s foliage.
The surrounding landscape is obviously a cornerstone of the entire project. With the aim of using materials that recall the colors of the local natural environment, the architects opted for wool and felt upholstery, along with site-specific art created by Finnish artist Petri Vainio, who has depicted a bed of reeds on the ceiling of the main entrance.
Completely surrounded by water, this library is truly one of a kind. So, where did the idea come from? It all started when the Osaka Prefecture decided to replace the library in the Japanese city of Matsubara with a new design. The original building stood next to a pond in a park that is home to most of the local cultural facilities.The competition for the creation of the new library required that projects covered both design and construction.The winning project, the work of MARU.architecture, interpreted the place as a unique design setting and, from this, the idea of surrounding the library by water was born. The project was selected for its creativity, the rationalization of the construction process, and the budget.
The architects envisioned a building with exterior walls that powerfully rise up from the water. To protect the building from the water, absorb horizontal forces in earthquakes, and provide the required level of insulation, the walls were made of reinforced concrete with a thickness of 23.6 inches (60 cm). The windows were positioned so as to reduce their number while ensuring plenty of natural lighting and bringing in cold air from evaporative cooling from the pond.
This is a truly unforgettable building that reflects the passing of time. To read more, >> this article is dedicated to the project, the construction, and the architectural details.
If you ask the average city dweller to picture a school in their head – or to remember their own – they’ll probably see a single building that houses all the school’s different functions, from the library to the gym to the lunchroom. But can schools change their design and become more flexible? That’s precisely what the architects from OPEN Architecture set out to do with the School as Village project in Shanghai. Their idea was to deconstruct this notion of schools, placing their different parts in several smaller, distinctive buildings to create a village-like campus.
The Bibliotheater, designed to spark children’s imaginations and draw them into the learning process, is not just a library but also a theater. Its design – in which some people see a blue whale and others see an ocean liner – deliberately accentuates certain elements, such as its blue color, its sloping roof, the protruding skylights, and the porthole-shaped windows. The theater, which requires less natural light but more acoustic insulation than the library, occupies the lower part of the building. The library is located in the upper section, with reading spaces arranged at different heights, following the changing levels of the volumes of the theater below.
>> This article from The Plan looks at the entire project and includes a preview of the Bibliotheater gallery and the cultural center of the entire masterplan.
Photos by: Esa Saarinen, Katja Tähjä
Photography courtesy of OPEN Architecture
Photos by: Kai Nakamura, Shinkenchiku-sha, courtesy of MARU.architecture