The Winners of the Little Free Library Design Competition

Spoiler alert—we all win.

In more than 50,000 neighborhoods in 70 countries all over the world, there are people who who take it upon themselves to build book exchanges in their yards, neighborhoods, and public spaces. Last fall, in partnership with our friends at Little Free Library® and AIASF (American Institute of Architects, San Francisco), we launched a challenge that asked architects to design one of these wee libraries in response to the needs of library stewards.

The stewards’ requests? Things like keeping in mind the height difference between child and adult patrons, motion sensor lighting, balancing form and function, and having a place for a late-night dog-walker to tie up their pup so they could do some perusing.

The response floored us. We received 300 designs from 40 countries, from Tehran to Toronto, Georgia the country to Georgia the state, and many places in between. Some were freestanding structures that you could practically live in, some were designs that affixed to existing infrastructure like parking signs and light poles. All were bound by a love of learning and the role books play in it.

It was very difficult to choose winners from these big-hearted submissions, but we had some help from our group of esteemed judges: Award-winning architecture firm Snøhetta’s San Francisco team, Brett Randall Jones of the renowned David Baker Architects, Dan Cohen of Gramming for Good, Renée Elaine Sazcı of AIASF, Kevin Lippert of Princeton Architectural Press, Christina Jenkins of Project H Design, and the staff of Little Free Library, including founder Todd H. Bol.

And because this outpouring of literary generosity is, like books, meant to be shared, we’ll be spotlighting other entries in future posts. Enjoy, and we hope it gives you ideas for what you can build for your community.


Judges’ Choice

Given to the designs that inspired the most consensus among the judges and scored highest for style, function, and responsiveness to the needs of the stewards.

Owlie by Bartosz Bochynski, FUTUMATA / London, England

“As a wisest owl on the planet earth Owlie want to help Little Free Library popularize the ideas of reading among children and adults. It is made from affordable and ecological materials and it can accommodate around 40 books which are visible in her eyes. The access to the books are from the back. You can find there shelf for children’s books, a shelf for adults books and a shelf where is placed the notebook for visitors comments. All shelves are highlighted with the LED lighting. Books are covered with plexiglass doors. All books are always safe with Owlie—surfaces that are most vulnerable to the adverse action of water are covered with metal. In the night Owlie’s eyes glow. Two big light points attract people to come closer. It is also highlights the books and encourages others join the community.”

Note from Renée Elaine Sazcı of AIASF: Love that in the evening, with the help of the LED lights, the owl’s eyes light up as a feature. This not only attracts people, but creates safety for the tiny library.

Judges’ Choice Runner-Up

Seth Thompson / San Francisco, California

“The primary goal of my library design is to allow the steward to reconfigure the arrangement of the library to form a dynamic public space. It features easily removable shelves and a lift-off hinged plexiglass door to encourage stewards to rearrange the components of the library for different use cases and settings. Bookshelves can be placed on a table for easier browsing at chest-height; the plexiglass door can turn into a makeshift sign with dry-erase markers; the library enclosure can double as a stand for a hanging flower planter or shelf of additional materials.

In the words of Jorge Luis Borges, ‘I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” Books are the most enduring, durable, rich, and expressive form of human communication.’

Note from Snøhetta SF: We really like the iconic design this project provides to little free libraries. We think it would be easily recognizable on the street and could be installed in a wide range of locations.

Chronicle Books’ Choice

This award was chosen by the Chronicle Books creative team with a focus on production potential. It had the additional guidelines of needing to be flat packed, not weighing more than 42lbs (19kg), and using only environmentally conscious materials.

Rachel Murdaugh, Clark Nexsen / Asheville, North Carolina

“The components flat pack easily, and the hinging construction of the frame streamlines assembly. Simply unfold the base frame, attach the flanges, and construct the cabinet and seat according to an instruction pamphlet using provided hardware. In effect, this design maximizes the functionality of the book kiosk as a means of emphasizing its role as an intersection of community and learning, while elegantly maintaining ease of assembly.”

“Reading books increases our capacity for empathy. Through the written words of another person, we are able to experience life from vantage points totally different from our own. In doing this, we enhance our ability to sympathize with various worldviews that would otherwise be totally alien to us.”

The Chronicle Books team thought this was a thoughtful and impressive alignment of style and substance, and that the materials chosen were very smart from a production standpoint.

Chronicle Books’ Choice Runner-up

Lea Randebrock / Lahti, Finland

“The construction is designed for serial production. It fits into a flat pac and is possible to set up right at the place of its function with a minimum of tools (hammer and screwdriver).

“The feeling of opening a book for the first time cant be replicated by technical devices. Starting to read a book is a experience that touches all senses. The feeling of the paper, the smell of the pages and the colors printed on the pages, all combined makes books indispensable.”

The Chronicle Books team loved the modern design and the surprising shelving.

Stewards’ Choice

The Little Free Library staff and founder chose their favorites and then voting was opened up to the entire Little Free Library community.

Tree of Knowledge by CIRCLE (Ryo Otsuka, Lin Zihao) / Tokyo, Japan

“Paper, as the key component of books, originated from wood. We sought to reverse and amplify this relationship in our design concept.”

Elegant and conceptual, this was also one of Judge Kevin Lippert’s favorite designs.

Stewards’ Choice Runner-up

4th Street Farms Little Free Library / Columbus, Ohio

Features include mural elements from local artists, multiple shelf heights for all ages, motion sensor lighting for day and night, and a “Little Food Pantry.”

We love that this Little Free Library has become a community center, serving the mind, body, and heart.

Honorable Mention

Anders Hellsten Nissen / Berlin, Germany

“Most poles are there to elevate street lamps, rubbish bins, signs…why not use the bottom part for a little library.

To me books have always played a huge role in my life. I have had a library card for nearly 40 years, I’m now 44 years old. (…) When receiving a book, you get to know the person and what interests them, and by giving away a book, you let people into your world.”

Note from Snøhetta SF: We like that this design takes advantage of existing infrastructure, and does not require added lighting which could easily break or go unreplaced when it burns out. We also like that it is multi-layer to provide access for all ages. We appreciate how thought through the design details are.

Book Cheese by Xi Tan, Qian Sun, Xiaojing Zhang, Yan, Li / Guangzhou City, China

“Our entry is aim at solving the problems in the use of different weather conditions and the use of different groups of people at different times. We try to find the simplest form to solve these period of problems and finally choose a circle as the basic form. This little free library is just like a big cheese.”

Brett Randall Jones was wowed by the detail in this proposal, which demonstrated Book Cheese was a library for all seasons.

Nicola Urban, Tolmezzo, Italy

“It is [also] designed to be practical and functional, with the introduction of different elements: the parking for bikes, lights with motion sensor, plan for the consultation of books and a small photovoltaic panel installed at the top, that make the structure independent from an energy point of view.

Books are important because through them you can learn and help to dream. Share these simple and important concepts must be a priority. Everyone should have access to culture, whatever their social status.”

This was a favorite of Project H Design’s Christina Jenkins

Aleksandra Ostapiuk / Bristol, UK

“This Little Free Library is designed around wooden frame, with bench with hooks for dog leashes on one side, and boxes on the other. The main aim was to create visual interest by playing around with simple, basic shapes.”

Note from Renée Elaine Sazcı of AIASF: This simple design, which could be used in front yards or parks alike, pays particular attention to the steward’s dreams. They included motion-detection lighting, seating, a dog leash hook, book accessibility for children and adults, see-through doors and areas for bookmarks or flyers…I like the lightweight feeling of the design, which doesn’t intrude on sightlines.

Between the Folds by Ronnie Kataki, Jia Li Song, Edward Wang / New York City, New York

“Books are secrets among folds of pleated Tyvek. Encircling, each round fluorescent curtain is parted to expose a series of nonrigid waterproof bays suspended from a bolted ring. Readers are invited to peruse this library by brushing through its many leaves that alternatively hide and reveal paper cargo.

After reading, a book bears remnants of our preoccupation — weakened spines, oiled pages, dog ears. Books have an ultimate power, they borrow our time and our bodies in exchange for a kind of concrete telepathy.”

Note from Brett Randall Jones: The most innovative I think. Incredibly unique and thought-provoking.

Aoife Marnane
Limerick, Ireland

“Inexpensive marine plywood gives the structure tactility and warmth. The metal frame is painted in a pastel green providing a gentle pop of color. The metal frame could be permanently fastened to the ground allowing permanent stability and the canopy shelters from the sun and rain. The fold down seating can fit up to four adults and the structure holds smaller chairs for children to use.”

Judge Dan Cohen was a big fan of this design

Liminal Wall by Robert Cannavino and Myung Jae Lee (ASMAR)
New York, USA

“The LIMINAL WALL is not just a little free public library — it is also a social mechanism for public engagement. Stationed under the construction scaffolding sidewalk sheds, the little library brings a piece of surprise and delight to the bleakest sidewalks of New York City. The little library is an interactive wall made up of 1”diameter metal poles which can be shifted and adjusted to individual patron’s desires and needs — if a large book needs to be place in the wall, the poles can be shifted to accommodate its dimension.”

Anna Bijak, Jan Christian Hinrichs
Cracow University of Technology, Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaft und Kunst
Frankfurt (Oder) / Słubice

“The project, tied very strictly to the location aims to overcome the sociological problems of a divided city of Frankfurt/Słubice. It takes a form of a floating pavilion, which crosses the border in between two cities (along the line of the river) and serves as a spark for creating sense of community. The pavilion can also be the beginning of revitalization of waterfront areas. 
 It creates a literal link between two cities, crossing the border both physically and also in people’s minds.”

Tadah! Beach Day by Peter Salim + Yoona Ahn / Philadelphia, PA

“The only way to pull out the actual book is to crawl under the bookshelf and slide the plexiglass doors from below. The top of the structure functions as a platform to accommodate different activities such as seating, observing the ocean, and chilling!

In a way, the importance of books is growing since the joy of flipping through pages is increasingly lost. Therefore, a subtle way of reminding the delight of reading a book — and finishing it from cover to cover — is to provide moments like the Little Free Library that can encourage that sense of delight in individuals, communities, and cities.”

Brett Randall Jones called this submission “unexpected and surprising in addition to being fairly easy to build. Now that’s beach reading.

Huge thanks to everyone who contributed their time and talent. We can’t wait to stumble upon some of these out in the world.