National libraries, often monumental in scale and "dominated by nationalistic ambitions and overwhelming architectural details," will be the subject of a new exhibition opening later this month at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Icons of Knowledge: Architecture and Symbolism in National Libraries seeks to examine why national libraries are amongst the most symbolic icons of modern day countries. In the global milieu of the "rapid digitisation of print," this exhibition aims to shed light on why nations are "vehemently investing resources in the construction of buildings that will project their cultural legacy and house the most precious treasures of their written history."
The initial impetus for this research-led exhibition, which is curated by Harvard graduates Noam Dvir and Daniel Rauchwerger, began four years ago. Rauchwerger, who was designing a competition entry for the design of Israel's new national library building in Jerusalem, began working on an architectural catalogue of library buildings. Two years later, along with Dvir, the research was rekindled in the Harvard Design Magazine's 38th issue (entitled 'Do You Read Me?'). The large set of drawings which have been produced specifically for this exhibition are designed to help examine the libraries in an analytical manner.
According to Rauchwerger, "we found remarkable similarities between libraries in completely different areas of the world, and from completely different times." The image below shows - from left to right - the plans of the Saudi Arabian King Fahad National Library (Riyadh, 2010), the Belarus National Library (Minsk, 2006), The Library of Congress (Washington DC, 1897) and the Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, 1896). "These buildings are, after all, very dramatic and symbolic; they're palaces of knowledge and virtue."
"The comparative nature of this exhibition highlights an exceptional and persistent formal similarity that spans across history and geography. In search of an architectural typology, we find designs that unfold the question of how nations wish to be read."
The exhibition has been curated by Noam Dvir and Daniel Rauchwerger, and designed by Benjamin Albrecht and a student exhibition team. You can see it between February 2nd and March 22nd 2015 at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (Cambridge, MA). Find out more here.
An associated public lecture will take place on the evening of the 5th February 2015.