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    Different Looks for Books


    Redefining Books, Redefining Libraries

    As rich and evocative as these images are, they do not necessarily represent the environment of a contemporary library. As digital catalogs have taken the place of card catalogs, the computer, with patrons busily clicking and searching, is one of the first interior impressions of the library.

    The great benefits of the digital catalog — the dispersion of catalog information throughout the library, remote access to information, and the enhanced catalog search beyond the collection at hand — ensure its status. More often than not, the tactile, visual contact with books is a third-, fourth- or fifth-removed experience in the library's sequence of spaces and functions. With only the occasional exception, walls of books no longer make the primary space of the contemporary library.

    The storage of large collections, the advent of a numerical and linear cataloging system, and concerns for flexibility in the ever-changing library landscape have prompted the creation of large open areas filled with furniture. The quantities and locations of reading tables, carrels, shelving, and other furniture and equipment are manipulated to meet current and changing needs.

    Large open areas address the issue of security and supervision, particularly important in public libraries where patron safety is a concern and library staffing is frequently subject to fluctuating funds.

    Eltham Public Library

    One example of a modern library is by Gregory Burgess Architects, in Eltham, Victoria, Australia. The city has long been proud of being a community aware of both art and ecology. Its library is an expression of this community spirit, providing a popular and inspirational focus for a range of activities including community meeting and exhibition spaces, council art displays, and a small coffee shop.

    The building sits on a combination of suspended concrete slabs, timber access decks, and earth berms carefully arranged to preserve the existing oak and peppercorn trees. Sympathetically set back from historic Shillinglaw Cottage, winding ramps and verandas lead visitors on a pleasurable journey to the center of the library.

    Within a concentric plan, the book stack areas extend radially from the center, allowing good sight lines from the central desk out to perimeter windows with landscape views and more casual reading areas. The clerestories reflect natural light off the curved wood ceilings, and ripple out from the center to divide the volume into a series of interconnecting planes, carefully balancing uplifting light and gentle grounded enclosure.

    The design aims to inspire individuals, engaging the mind, the feelings, the senses, and the soul, balancing individual privacy with public sharing; knowledge with wisdom; active imagination with spatial calm; nature with culture; a still center with a dynamic periphery.

    The building uses economical low-maintenance natural materials such as clay brick, mud brick, and radially sawn, plantation-grown wood for external cladding and interior lining. Radially sawn timbers give better yields and more stable sections than conventionally milled timbers. Recycled wood was used for veranda posts and openings revealed in the mud-brick walls. The main structural system incorporates natural timber poles in the ceremonial spaces.

    Evanston Public Library

    Presenting a very different image is the Evanston (Illinois) Public Library by Nagle Hartray Danker Kagan McKay, architect of record, and Joseph Powell, design architect.   >>>

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    ArchWeek Image

    The materials of the Eltham Public Library, by Gregory Burgess Architects, help it to blend with its surroundings.
    Photo: Trevor Mein

    ArchWeek Image

    The library's roof is scalloped to admit daylight.
    Photo: Trevor Mein

    ArchWeek Image

    Light washes Eltham Library's wood ceilings.
    Photo: Trevor Mein

    ArchWeek Image

    Ground floor plan, Eltham Public Library.
    Image: Gregory Burgess Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    Section looking north (top) and section looking west (bottom), Eltham Public Library.
    Image: Gregory Burgess Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    Undulating surfaces in the reading room ceiling.
    Photo: Trevor Mein

    ArchWeek Image

    Organic forms and geometry are used throughout the Eltham Public Library.
    Photo: Trevor Mein

    ArchWeek Image

    The information desk is flooded with light from above.
    Photo: Trevor Mein


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