Saturday, April 2, 2011

Books Are Dead! Long Live Books!

Anacostia Library, in Washington, D.C., by the Freelon Group (courtesy Mark Herboth Photography via Architectural Record)
Libraries have been on my mind lately. I've always loved books and reading. When it came time to work on my own design thesis, a middle and high school, the complex's library was the natural focal point, where the community of students, instructors, parents and the neighborhood would meet and exchange ideas—and therefore teach. I found out something rather surprising on my journey. The death of the book has been greatly exaggerated.
The Philological Library of the Freie Universität Berlin offers 650 internet-accessible reading spaces on five levels. (photo courtesy Reinhard Görner via
Physical books continue to change shape—hardcovers share shelf space with Nooks, Kindles and iPads—while libraries of all stripes experience a resurgence. Visits are up, and librarians can barely keep up with demand for the latest bestsellers. Job seekers, reeling from the latest economic downturn, stake out the free resources—computers and Internet service—and parents and children alike flock to reading nights and other gatherings for readers young and old.
The addition to Boston's Bloor/Gladstone Branch Library by RDH Architects (courtesy Tom Arban via Architectural Record)
The need for libraries predates the Great Recession, of course. Postwar West Berlin's master planner, Hans Scharoun, saw the need for a great cultural center to pull the struggling city together. An integral part of his plan was the State Library. Its recent restoration speaks to the continued vitality of the building. The iconic main branch of New York Public Library is currently undergoing its own restoration and renovation, and not a moment too soon.

Hans Scharoun's Staatsbibliothek, in what was West Berlin, faces Mies van der Rohe's Neue NationalGalerie.

Today's design community answers the call for this once and future public square in large ways and small, emphasizing the social aspects of the contemporary library. No community—whether a large university or small enclave in a rapidly changing city—remains immune to the pulls this institution holds on the world just outside its halls.

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