Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 19, 2022

© Coutesy Atelier Kastelic Buffey / Shai Gil

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A new chapter

Four public libraries that are rethinking traditional architecture and design

Considering that everything is online these days — books, magazines, music, TV shows, movies, friends — public libraries should be struggling. Despite the digital times, however, new libraries have been popping up all over the world. Modern facilities feature books in every form and format, and are multi-use and often multi-level. The architecture is being reinvented to include quiet solitary havens, but also bustling community hubs with gardens, playgrounds and more; designs are hardly by the book. Here are four new libraries that make the point.

Library of Birmingham, England

About 40 percent of British jewellery is made in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter so it’s only fitting that the Library of Birmingham is draped in delicate filigree. But the 5357 interlocking circles inspired by the artisan tradition of metalwork also symbolize the assemblage of people, a bit like the Olympic rings. The circles are ever-present inside too as shadows and reflections twirling past desks and up shelves and over white ceramic floors. Escalators and cylindrical elevators connect the library’s main circular spaces; book-lined rotundas provide daylight deep into the building. Each cantilevered level doubles as a balcony with rooftop gardens and views over Centenary Square. The golden rooftop rotunda is home to the Shakespeare Memorial Room, designed in 1882. The Victorian reading room was originally part of Birmingham's first Central Library. Its wood panelling and glass cabinets were first dismantled in 1974 and then painstakingly restored as part of the School of Music complex in 1986.

Chicago Public Library, Chinatown, IL

Buildings with walls that meet at 90-degree angles are sooo last century. There aren’t any on the outside walls of the Chinatown branch of the Chicago Public Library. A glass and aluminum triangle with rounded edges that’s been described as a pebble and also a glowing lantern at night, the structure sits at the intersection of Archer and Wentworth Avenues, and acknowledges Feng Shui principles by aligning with both streets sans any sharp corners. Gingko trees soften the urban vibe; the building’s green roof is covered in grass. Designed by the firm SOM, the minds behind NYC’s One World Trade Center and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the facility’s interior is modelled after a Chinese courtyard. All spaces connect to an atrium that’s lit by an oculus; a grand staircase brings members from the ground-floor kids’ zone to the adult and teen zones, where a huge mixed media mural by C.J. Hungerman dances overhead.

Dokk1, Aahus, Denmark

There’s no telling where the front and back of the Dokk1 library is, and that’s exactly what the Scandinavian architects intended when they designed the defiant-looking polygonal structure. Located on the Aarhus harbourfront in Denmark, the facility is accessible from a few sides via four large sculptural staircases that also entice people to sit and stay awhile à la Spanish Steps in Rome. At the top, there are outdoor play spaces that feature an American eagle with outstretch wings, an African monkey on the savannah and a Russian bear carrying a hollow tree trunk that kids can slide through. All of the figures are artful, climbable and extremely popular. The library is modern and open with interconnected spaces of concrete, metal and wood. The bookshelves and furniture are movable. Oh — and that bronze column near the main staircase? It’s a bell that new parents can ring from the hospital nearby when their baby is born.

Story Pod, Newmarket, ON

You know the saying “good things come in small packages?” How about the one “the best things in life are free?” If you’re not convinced that either is true, the Story Pod in Newmarket, ON, about 60 kilometres north of Toronto, may change your mind. The modest black pod in Riverwalk Commons, the city’s new town square, is 2.5 by 2.5 metres with big doors that unfurl like wings. Inside, there are sleek mahogany benches and shelves lined with books. All have been donated and passersby can take or leave one, or linger and read by the river. The pod is closed and locked at night; recessed, energy efficient LEDs, powered by solar panels, light it up. The architects Atelier Kastelic Buffey designed the pod pro bono; town parks staff constructed it. Book exchanges called Little Free Libraries have been popping up across North America. Most look like big birdhouses; all are equally delightful.

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Showing 1 comments

  1. On September 19, 2017, John finley said:
    There is a stunning new library InHalifax which is now a landmark in the city. Danish architects. Worth a mention

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