Architects: Solis Colomer Arquitectos
Location: Zona 13, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Area: 812.0 m2
Photography: Courtesy of Solis Colomer arquitectos
Koica library is a project donated by the Korean International Cooperation Agency. It is a building intended for intellectual culture and academic training for the program “Villa de las Niñas” of the Sisters of Mary, which aims to provide a comprehensive education to poor girls who mostly come from rural areas.
The design is inserted between two existing buildings, allowing for a kind of spatial container that translates into a small civic square that rescues and highlights the values of open space and its relationship to architecture. The first interesting aspect of the project is the facade, one that is almost entirely expressed as a series of closed surfaces, a fundamental concept in the design of the project. As the architect Mauricio Solis explains it, the facade makes a synthesis of the idea of “escape”, making an analogy to the way the writer Susanna Tamaro refers to the act of reading or in this case, to the books, which are a form of imaginative escape.
This is how the facade can be understood as a “barrier”, which is necessary to cross. This idea is manifested as the notion of creating an architecture that takes its users toward “something else”. In the case of the library, this intention gives a clear argument to how architecture and its spaces allow students to find themselves in a place where the boarding school character is dissolved and the possibility arises to find themselves in a “different world”.
The library is 812 square meters and is designed in three modules, forming an L shape that adapts to the existing trees. These modules shape the project, which is divided into three levels, which provide, from a triple height lobby, an auditorium, a computer lab and a reading area.
Inside the building, the wall once viewed as a barrier is completely denied. Painted black, it becomes an object in the background.
Solis explains, “the core” of the project is the garden, which can be understood as a “secret place” or magical accessed only through the library, which surrounds it as an open space that gives the possibility of connecting the image of the natural with an educational process. This is the reason why the reading room is open towards the garden through large windows that allow an ongoing dialogue between nature and building, a dialogue that is intentionally maintained in all areas of the building through windows that allow one to see the garden from different points.
This reading room, or space for “intellectual training”, is a double height space which is conceptually defined as the most important space in the library, referring to the scale that places destined to the enjoyment of literature should have. It is therefore a space that dignifies any reader and due to its scale, generates some sort of spatial respect that makes the place a real space of “stealthy” cohabitation.
Above the space previously described is a terrace/garden that transforms into a playful living space by presenting a series of green mounds where the girls can read a book in a nontraditional way and reinforces contact with nature in a different plane. This space, in addition to enabling outdoor cultural use, allows to connect to one of the existing buildings in functional terms, which makes this terrace an intermediate space as mediator between both buildings.
Materially, the library is presented with an austere image, which on one side is a reflection of the training provided by the Sisters of Mary, but that also talks about honesty in design, a functional architecture where as Solis mentions: “nothing is superfluous”. The project was designed in such a way that understanding the sum of all its parts makes sense. From the use of exposed concrete both in the floor as in the way that the structural system is evident (beams and columns), the use of OSB (oriented stand board) recycled wood, as well as the use of perforated PVC panels, these are some of the examples that show how an architecture can be sober and without any kind of fanfare, but in turn does not question the quality and architectural creativity.
One of the materials that calls attention the most, mainly on the exterior, is the ‘fachaleta’ glazed earthenware, white in its original state, but which has variations in hue (according to the time that it is left in the oven). It is locally manufactured and when used at a large scale, generates a rich chromatic canvas, a sensitivity of architecture.
This project, beyond being only a building destined to education, is certainly a proposal that provokes (re) thinking the way architecture can influence people, a design that suggests that it is possible to see things differently, positively. In this sense, Koica library is presented as an architecture that dignifies, as it not only provides the necessary uses to educate a vulnerable population, but also shows possibilities of creating the recognition of a purposeful space that shows how life can be better in the minds of this population, making valid the argument of how architecture in itself can be a complementary body to education.