Rem Koolhaas and OMA build a monument to books

looking down at library
© Iwan Baan via OMA

Many are writing off libraries as relics of another age, but they are needed more than ever.

One might think that in this digital age where so much is available on your phone or computer that libraries would be a low priority. Why in Ontario, Canada where I live, the leading candidate for Premier wanted to close many of them. But in other countries, they are building monuments to books. The latest just opened in Doha, Qatar, designed by Rem Koohaas at OMA. Rem is quoted in ArchDaily:

Qatar library © Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti © OMA

We took a plate and folded its corners up to create terraces for the books, but also to enable access in the center of the room. You emerge immediately surrounded by literally every book – all physically present, visible, and accessible, without any particular effort. The library is a space that could contain an entire population, and also an entire population of books...

library interior© Iwan Baan via OMA

On Fast Company, Katharine Schwab calls it an unabashed tribute to books in a relentlessly digital age.

qatar from outside© Iwan Baan via OMA

Far from shoving the books in the back to focus on shiny new computers–another vital element of the 21st century library–the library recognizes that books are part of its foundation. The shelves are made from the same white marble as the building’s floors, and do more than just display: They also incorporate lighting, ventilation, and a book return system.

She notes that Rem wanted it to be a panorama of books: “You emerge immediately surrounded by literally every book–all physically present, visible, and accessible, without any particular effort.”

We have also shown incredible libraries in China, like Tianjin binhai library designed by MVRDV, another monument to books.

Seattle LibrarySeattle Library/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Great libraries are so important in cities. I was impressed by Rem's Seattle library that acted as a meeting place, a homeless shelter and yes, a library. They are under attack in a lot of places; as Schwab concludes,

In a time when the library occupies an increasingly important role in civil society as a storing house of knowledge that exists outside the effervescent, alternative fact-riddled internet, their status remains in flux. In the U.S., they’re a target of the culture wars. But over in Qatar, OMA’s design brings the library back to its roots as a true testament to books.

Libraries are the most marvellous invention, the heart and soul of the sharing economy and a big part of many families' lives. Perhaps North American cities should be reconsidering. Maybe instead of an arms race or a trade war, we need a library battle.

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