New Library Designed to Blend Into its Surroundings

Brick-and-mortar libraries intersect with online and virtual reading options.


Plans for the new library in Wuhan, China..

(Courtesy MVRDV)

One of the world's oldest and most elaborately decorated libraries is the Joanine Library, a Baroque library in Coimbra, Portugal, located at the heart of the University of Coimbra. So precious are its gold-leaf decorations and 200,000 books and papers, many more than 500-years-old, that visitors to the library must let their eyes adjust to a darkened interior before stepping into the ornate climate-controlled three-storied space.

One of the newest libraries in the world will be a 140,000 square-meter library in Wuhan, China, with a sweeping form that takes cues from the topography of its surroundings, will comprise large windows that stretch wholly across three sides of its multifaceted elevations, according to Dezeen.

Windows to the world 
The Dutch architectural studio, MVRDV, submitted plans and was selected as the winning entry in the international competition to design the Wuhan Library, which was first launched in April 2022.

The terraces and its ground floor public areas were designed to reference Wuhan’s rivers surrounded by the city landscape. Reading spaces, communal workspaces and vast bookcases organized across the various stepped terrace levels will help to form a canyon-like topography for Wuhan’s more than 11 million residents.

The large-scale project creates diverse study environments and offers reading and studio spaces while also connecting to its surroundings via three large openings that display the life inside the buildings to invite visitors to enter. 

According to the Wuhan city website, the library will be located at the Wangjiadun central business district where Changqing Road and Yuncai Road intersect.The library's floor area will be 100,000 square meters, three times the size of the current library The project is expected to be finished in 2024.

A brief history of the library 
Libraries have acquired, organized, and preserved resources for millennia and made them available to the public, according to Places Journal.

The history of libraries dates back to ancient civilizations such as those of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, where archives and collections of written documents were created and preserved. The earliest known library is the Library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, which was founded in the 7 th century BCE.

In the Middle Ages, monasteries were the centers of learning and libraries. Monks copied and preserved ancient manuscripts, and these works were passed down from generation to generation. During the Renaissance, libraries emerged as public institutions, as books  began to be collected and preserved.

The first modern public library was founded in 1731 in Manchester, England. Public libraries continued to be established throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, as literacy rates increased and the demand for access to books grew.

The 20th century saw the rise of academic and research libraries, as well as the development of digital technology and the internet, which revolutionized the way information is stored and accessed. 

The architecture of libraries also plays a part in their popularity, according to the LUKKU Modern Design & Living website. Consider, for example, the Stuttgart City Library in Stuttgart, Germany; the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, in Chicago, IL; the Tianjin Binhai Library in Tianjin, China; and the Qatar National Library in Doha, Qatar. Soaring ceilings and artfully displayed books in each of these libraries create an attractive tourist site.

Online resources
Most libraries have an online component, offering services via the computer for their users to read and download publications. In addition, virtual libraries are part of the metaverse where, as an avatar, you can browse virtual shelves in a virtual building.

One such library is the Community Virtual Library (CVL) which strives to embed information literacy in immersive learning environments, including digital citizenship, according to San José State University. CVL’s main library branch is located on Cookie Island in the virtual game, Second Life.

Another such library is the Uncensored Library built in the game, Minecraft. According to its website, the library provides access to independent information for young people around the world through a medium they can playfully interact with.

Thankfully, as the new library in Wuhan attests, brick-and-mortar physical libraries are not dead yet. In fact, Even in the digital age, people still want to read printed materials and the Wuhan library with its canyons of books is warm, inviting and stunningly beautiful.

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