Posted by: bluesyemre | May 19, 2018

#Libraries that speak loudly


You can learn a lot about countries’ priorities from their national libraries, as demonstrated in Athens, Riga and Doha…

THROUGHOUT May, books will be taken from their cramped, dusty confines in the old National Library of Greece and gingerly placed on trolleys. Over 2m items, including a collection of 4,500 manuscripts dating from the 9th to the 19th century, will make the trip through the busy streets from the venerable neoclassical building in the heart of Athens to their new home in the Stavros Niarchos Foundational Cultural Centre. The journey of these books neatly maps what has happened to the architecture of national libraries the world over. The books’ old home, completed in 1903, was designed as a temple of learning to be used by a limited academic elite. Their new one is part of a cultural complex, which includes an opera house, standing at the heart of a new section of the city.

Unlike the old library, the new site makes little reference to the architectural language of ancient Greece. It seeks to convey the idea of a modern nation, one comfortable with its history but also capable of expressing itself in a contemporary idiom on a grand scale. Instead of a quasi-religious building situated within a 50-acre ornamental park, the park is draped over the angular structure: to enter the library, visitors must go through a sort of glass-fronted cave framed by plantings. Once they do they will be greeted by a cliff-face of books over five storeys high. Literature—and modern literature, in particular—is presented as being a structural support to the state, as the books are to the open park above.


The new national library in Qatar (pictured, top) also feeds into evolving ideas about modernity, society and democracy in the Gulf state. When the building, which cost at least $300m, was first commissioned in 2006 it was simply as a facility for the expanding university quarter in Doha. One of the architects, Ellen van Loon of OMA, says that they tried to relate the building to the rapidly changing built environment of Qatar. “The design emerged from going to Qatar and thinking about the local condition and realising that the socialising in the country happens in shopping malls or hotels. A library, though, is a public building—a very good building for the social life of local people.”

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