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10 Most Beautiful Libraries in the World

A library has always been a sanctuary of silence, filled with books, encyclopaedias, atlases, dictionaries and comics, but today there are also many contemporary interpretations that make use of new technologies and pioneering design. According to a study by the Pew Research Centre, young people today are more willing to spend their time in a library compared to past generations and, indeed, libraries now are not only spaces for reading and studying but real workshops where various activities can be practised, such as, for example, recording a podcast in a proper recording booth or developing a video game.

A library is a communal, experimental space where learning is undertaken and knowledge is shared. Usually, they are magical places, full of thousands and thousands of books arranged neatly on shelves that can even measure kilometres. A labyrinthine structure in which it is easy to get lost. Enormous open spaces that unfold on different levels and that can be reached by spiral staircases or elliptical paths, very high, almost inaccessible, vaulted ceilings, wooden floors and exposed iron pipes.

In The Library of Babel, Jorge Luis Borges gave his dreamlike universe the appearance of a gigantic Library that contained all possible books and all possible combinations of graphic signs: “The Universe (which others call the Library) is made up of an indefinite, and perhaps infinite, number of hexagonal galleries with vast ventilation shafts in the middle, bordered by low banisters. From any hexagon, the upper and lower floors can be seen, interminably.” According to Borges, being in this place makes men experience two opposing feelings: on one hand, the certainty that the Library contains all possible potential and that there are even books able to explain the meaning of the life of each individual and describe their future, or that there could be a book able to contain a summary of the contents of all the other books; on the other hand, the knowledge that one life alone would never be enough to find what is being sought, there are so many hexagonal rooms to explore.

In Christopher Nolan’s film Interstellar, a teenager’s room, through a wall of books, becomes the symbolic centre of the world that connects the here and now with possible hereafters. The Library is an infinite place, the secret heart of the universe, the gravitational centre and focus of meaning around which the world and the conceptual narrative of the entire film orbit. Indeed, the library seems able to speak of another time-space continuum and become a sort of medium able to transmit coded messages through the books.

The Library, in everyone’s imagination, has always been a junction of roads and directions that will never lose its appeal. If, according to historians, the 17th century was the golden age of libraries, we are witnessing their real renaissance in our own time. Here are the top ten most beautiful and futuristic libraries of the world:

  1. National Library of China in Beijing, China
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● Largest library in Asia

● Four-tier study hall

2. Stuttgart City Library in Stuttgart, Germany

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● 9 storeys

● Book emporium atmosphere

● All white interior

3. Seattle Public Library in Seattle, USA

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● Cubist, all-glass exterior

4. The Royal Library in Copenhagen, Denmark

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● Ultra-modern façade of black marble

● Nicknamed the Black Diamond

● Sunlit atrium

● Also has cafe, three exhibition spaces, and a waterfront restaurant

5. Tianjin Binhai Library

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● Completed in 2017

● Described on social media as “ocean of books” building a “sea of knowledge” with tiered organic bookcases running along every wall

● “Urban living room”

● “Cave-like, continuous bookshelf”

Commentary and Insight:

● Takes the concept of a dialogue between the built and natural environments to an entirely new level with the winding, seamless layers of bookshelves; evokes an organic atmosphere and reminds the viewer of everything from an ocean to a cave

● The shelves are pristine white but not clinical. They’re pure, radiating warmth and light, as well as a sense of awe and wonder at the seemingly endless array of books

6. Biblioteca Sur in Lima

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● Completed in 2017

● Part of a cultural complex in a residential district

● The alternating windows and concrete pillars of the building’s facade are intended to resemble books stacked on a shelf

● The shorter sides of the exterior have wooden panels that contrast with the concrete and glass on the long sides

● The architects consulted locals to discover their interior accommodation requirements

○ Open areas and more private areas, with spaces for children’s activities and meetings

● The staircase is made of local wood

Commentary and Insight

● Designed the function and position of the interiors based on the needs of the local residents. Designers consulted users closely and are still accepting suggestions for improvements even though construction has been completed

● Investing in the community: used local wood to build the interior staircase

● Consideration of the integration of the exterior with the context: a plaza was created on one of the building’s shorter ends for interaction among people

● The plaza’s wooden panels merge with the surrounding nature, avoiding the discordant use of concrete amidst the surrounding flora

7. LocHal Library in Tilburg, Netherlands

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● Opened January 2019

● Housed in a converted former glass and steel locomotive shed

● Interior renovated while retaining much of the original steel structure with the tall windows and riveted columns

● “Contemporary reinterpretation of the original building”

● Entrance hall designed to convey the feeling of a covered city square

● Daylight streams in from tall windows

● Panoramic views of the city from the 3rd floor

Commentary and Insight

● Emblem of sustainability and repurposing: the conversion of existing buildings rather than the use of resources and materials for something entirely new

● Reinventing the design mindset: the designers allowed the original structure to shape the new interior. They worked around the space rather than imposing their own plans

● Large windows and lines of sight allow visitors to look outside and feel revitalized, draw inspiration, regenerate and recharge, contemplate. Creates a dialogue between the outside and inside

8. VAC Library in Vietnam

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● Hydroponics, self-sustaining ecosystems

9. Helsinki Central Library in Helsinki, Norway

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● Completed in 2018

● Topped with “book heaven” — an open-plan reading room

● The white, tent-like ceiling punctured with circular lights moves in large gentle waves across the top floor, creating a whimsical, dreamy atmosphere

10. Charles Library at Temple University in Philadelphia, USA

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● Unusual geometry

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Hidden Hub is an editorial project powered by Ashtart Consultancy, a strategy and management firm for creative and cultural worlds.

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