360 Modern has rounded up four public libraries that are pushing the envelope.
When it comes to public libraries, imaginations don’t always jump to excitement. If anything, faded carpet and yellowed lighting has become the norm in many corners of the world (and in some places, they’re doubling as COVID testing centers). But a number of metropolises are shaking things up with shining new architecture, each falling into step with a statement design vernacular—one that is undeniably modern.
Seattle Central Library, Seattle
In Washington state, the Seattle Central Library stands out among the city’s urban landscape, not only for its sheer size, but for its action-packed silhouette, defined by linear geometries that seem to leap from edge to edge. The building was completed in May 2004, but remains a future-forward piece of architecture, one that is as much about its appearance as it is the experience.
Deichman Bjørvika Library, Oslo
The new Deichman Bjørvika Library in Oslo is just a stone’s throw away from the city’s iconic opera house—so when it was time to rebuild the structure, the architect team of Norwegian design firms Atelier Oslo and Lundhagem knew that the public library would have to hold its own. The duo earned the commission in 2009 following a victory in an international design competition, and so they set out to build a space that would inspire curiosity and learning.
The waterfront library opened to the public in June 2020 (delayed from March due to COVID restrictions). Inside, concrete pillars jut out at all angles to form the interior skeleton of the building, surrounded by a glassy envelope that allows for summer light to pour in, and for the library to cast an enchanting glow in the darker months. The gleaming white interior, awash with sunlight, provides ample seating across multiple tiers, and among the rows and rows of books, origami-like ceilings, Scandinavian furnishings—even a children’s play area—invite bibliophiles in for a taste of Norway’s culture. From inside, visitors are granted enviable views of Oslo’s glacier-like opera house and its newly opened Munch Museum. The library’s more than 140,000 square feet span six floors, and the library expects to welcome, under normal circumstances, roughly 2 million visitors each year.
Central Library, Calgary
East of Calgary’s City Hall sits the new Central Library, smack-dab in the middle of this Canadian city’s booming East Village. The $245 million project was spearheaded by Norwegian firm Snøhetta and Canadian firm DIALOG, and was unveiled to the public in November 2018. The library’s keystone mission is “To Inspire All”—and across its 240,000 square feet are free and functional spaces, from more than 30 meeting rooms and a café to the children’s library and a community performance space.
Inside, warm panels of wood greet visitors, creating an inviting ambience. The sweeping mezzanine level harmonizes with the more rectilinear staircases in the main entryway, and in other corners of the building, the honeycomb-like building envelope allows for natural light in the reading nooks and meeting spaces of the library.
Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego
Named after Audrey and Theodore Seuss Geisel (the latter better known as Dr. Seuss), the Geisel Library in La Jolla, California is an undeniable statement of Brutalism. Designed in the 1960s by American architect William L. Pereira, this tessellated concrete treeform was completed in 1970, featuring eight stories arranged in an octagonal plan. It wasn’t until December 1995 that the University Library Building was renamed in honor of the children’s book author and his wife, who had donated generously to the library.
The austere building might remind you of Manhattan’s Vessel in some ways, and in others, it evokes a pagoda-like austerity, with its main “trunk” occupying the first two floors before unfolding into study spaces and stacks in a tower of stepped tiers. The structure has become an icon of the university’s campus, and whether people love it or hate it, it’s impression is certainly an unforgettable one. Leading visitors into the library is a snake-shaped footpath, and once inside, pared-back interiors accentuate the enviable views of the surrounding campus.
In cities near and far, libraries are abuzz with curiosity and discovery—but these four have hopefully shown how it’s not only the books that can inspire. The designs of these public libraries are showstoppers in and of themselves, each one provoking creativity in its own distinct tenor, whether by conjuring daydreams of space travel or cantilevers that defy gravity.
About the Author: Writer Marina Felix has been writing about art, architecture, and design for more than five years, most recently having worked as Business of Home’s Assistant Editor. She is currently pursuing a masters of science in Architectural Conservation in Edinburgh, Scotland.