From community meeting hubs to secluded refuges, places to learn and places to study, libraries can be so much more than just a place to a check out a book. With this in mind, we’ve rounded-up 15 awe-inspiring libraries, including a Canadian church that was converted into a library, the first library in Muyinga, Burundi – built using participatory design and local materials – and the largest academic library in Finland. See what makes each of the libraries unique after the break.
Strasbourg’s National University Library (BNU) found new life in this rehabilitation project by ANMA. Located in a building from the German-occupation period (1871), the architects sought to maintain the monumental architecture style, emphasizing the molding and dome on the outside, while at the same time creating newer, modern spaces on the inside. A 27-meter spiraling staircase connects all of the library’s floors.
While not technically a library, this bookstore – and 2015 Building of the Year winner -- in São Paulo functions like one in many ways. Seeking to go beyond being a merely a place to purchase books, the architects sought to create spaces for people to read, hang out and meet up. To achieve this the top floor features 21-meter-wide bleachers, providing a place for visitors to sit and read as well as a spot where small concerts and lectures can be held.
Built specifically for travelers, this library in South Korea is the perfect place for those with wanderlust. Seeking to create a form of travel itself, the library “exhibits a thick accumulation of information, experience and objects, including a bookshelf that covers the entire wall from floor to ceiling.”
Known as the “Factory of Words,” this library in Portugal gets its nickname from its location on a site formerly occupied by a rice mill. A large triangular window cuts through the floors, providing natural light and connecting the building’s different spaces.
Enjoy the view of reading on the beach, but without all the sand (and no sunscreen required) in this seaside library in China. Designed to look like “weathered rock” each room in the library offers a unique connection with the ocean, letting in different amounts of light, wind and sound.
Designed especially for children (and for the inner child in all of us), this bookstore and café in Colombia contains nooks for reading, drawing, resting and playing. There are also private reading rooms and tables for meeting up and chatting.
This community lending library in Canada pivots open (like the covers of a book) during the day, inviting people to read inside and on the lawn in front. Featuring vertical slats of different sizes, the library allows light to filter through when closed, offering views of the book spines at the widest openings.
Offering a quiet refuge away from the village center, this library is nestled in the mountains, blending into the landscape and offering a secluded place to sit and read. Local materials – sticks used to fuel cooking stoves – were used to clad the building. The wooden sticks “temper the bright light and spread it evenly throughout the space to provide a perfect reading ambience.”
Located in the heart of Birmingham’s largest public square, this library has eight rotundas on the inside, each one containing a different function and culminating with the original Shakespeare Memorial Room from 1882. A cantilever provides shelter in front of the entrance and also acts as a balcony with views of events happening in the square.
Designed for students (who would presumably be spending “hundreds of hours” studying in the space), the library at the Free University in Berlin, “combines a massed concrete structure with a light diaphanous envelope.” Natural light and air fill the space and reading desks wrap around each floor, while “the bibliographic collections are housed in a four-storey central core.”
Housed within an 18th century building in Mexico City, this library occupies just a 170-square-meter space. Dedicated to Mexican author Jaime Garcia Terres, the library features two long bookshelves that “are suspended from the walls,” creating a “syncopated rhythm that mirrors the floor pattern.” An “empty bookcase” hangs from the ceiling, filtering “the light through a series of mullions modulated in the same fashion as the bookshelves.”
The largest academic library in Finland, this library was designed for a wide range of users, and includes a variety of functions such as sound-proof rooms for group work, quiet reading rooms, information and collections zones. Large arched openings give the library a distinct look from the outside and provide natural light on the inside, while the curved brick facades integrates the library “within the street line formed by the adjacent buildings.”
Inspired by vernacular design and built using “a participatory approach,” this was the first library to be built in Muyinga. “Locally-sourced compressed earth blocks” were used to allow for cross-ventilation and to give the library a luminous glow in the evening. A special reading space for children is covered by “an enormous hammock of sisal rope as a mezzanine, in which the children can dream away with the books that they are reading.”
The supporting frame of this library in the Czech Republic is the library itself, forming bookshelves that stretch from the ground to the observatory on top.
This stunning library in Quebec is housed in a former church, with the shelves and reading rooms bringing new life to the former nave.