Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Library Lined with Books

Recently MVRDV, with the Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute, completed the Tianjin Binhai Library, a "cultural center featuring a luminous spherical auditorium around which floor-to-ceiling bookcases cascade."

[All photographs by Ossip van Duivenbode]

As should be clear in just a quick glance, the sphere and cascade are bringing the library a fair amount of attention on the internet. As described by MVRDV, "The undulating bookshelf is the building’s main spatial device, and is used both to frame the space and to create stairs, seating, the layered ceiling and even louvers on the fa├žade."


MVRDV's Winy Maas calls this space "cave-like, a continuous bookshelf" and "a new urban living room." Furthermore, "The bookshelves are great spaces to sit and at the same time allow for access to the upper floors. The angles and curves are meant to stimulate different uses of the space, such as reading, walking, meeting and discussing."


Here, I'm zooming into the above photo to point out a couple things:

First, as might be obvious even from a distance, most of the books on the "continuous bookshelf" are images of books, not actual books. The difference between the two is clear in this close-up: the real books have library stickers at the base of each spine, while the book-images don't have that detail. Also, the latter looks flat in comparison. Ironically, if all of the real books went away, the cascade of books would still look full, since the book-images serve as a backdrop in the shelves with real books.

Second, and the main point of this post, is a question: is it a good idea to store books on the same surface that people walk upon? Although the person above is standing in an area where the books are only an image (due, I'm guessing, to the grilles at that level), the shelf below is clearly accessible; as are others above and below. With the photos portraying the building in its brand-new state, this doesn't appear to be an issue. But over time, as more and more people go to the Tianjin Binhai Library "to see and be seen," in Maas's words, the books will accumulate dirt from people walking by them. I hope the maintenance crew is up to the task.

That said, I love the idea of a central public space surrounded by books and knowledge – even if most of that knowledge is superficial image rather than text.

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