From Our Archive
This story was published before Summer 2021, when we launched our new digital experience.

Stunning Library Architecture

Books aren’t the only fascinating features at these ten aesthetically gifted archives.

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Imposing pillared façades and Beaux-Arts ornamentation, such as at the New York Public Library or the Widener Library on Harvard University’s campus, might have dominated library design for the last century, but the buildings going up to house today’s stacks are elevating the form.

While making room for technological advancements and ever-growing collections, these establishments are also employing intelligent architectural design in fresh ways, like using perforated aluminum cladding (at City Library in Seinäjoki, Finland) or grid-like glass panels (at the Seattle Central Library). But even historic structures, such as the Bloor/Gladstone Branch Library in Toronto, get modern makeovers with the addition of new square footage and sustainable features like green roofs and permeable pavers.

Equally compelling are the evolving social constructs at the heart of the architecture’s organizing principle. The Villanueva Public Library in Colombia, for example, used a centuries-old method of construction that employs mesh-encased rocks and enlisted the help of community members to build the structure—for a total project budget of $1,250. And in many cases, the main stacks are arranged in spiraling or contiguous rows aimed at creating a more approachable user experience, leading naturally into broad, light-filled atriums that encourage interactive experiences.

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