Library City instead of City Library
An over-ambitious first semester design project from 2012; it kinda set a precedent …
A small town outside of Stuttgart needs a new city library. In the example of Esslingen, the course Introduction to Design is looking for answers to the question: What is the role of the library as a typology in our society today? Due to the variety of possible interpretations, two potential sites are given. One lies in the centre of the old town, the other is a so-called non-place surrounded by areas constructed for traffic.
The definition of a library as a building for books seems to be obvious. In fact, the history of the library runs parallel to the history of the book. One is unthinkable without the other. A library is an institution at the service of obtaining, storing and providing published information.
A library generally is a public building. Accessible for all, to individually widen one's knowledge. Today, the understanding of what published information is shifted away from the book. In other words, when was the last time you opened a book instead of googling for it first?
Quietly reading and studying are intimate experiences. I appreciate the unique atmosphere of silence and concentration in a reading room. Therefore, a library also has an introverted character. As a visitor, entering some libraries equals stepping into a temple of wisdom. Some libraries became part of the cityscape and their identity such as churches.
Ongoing developments in the fields of communication and information technologies have fundamentally changed the relationship between humans and knowledge. Today, to know something, may mean to know where and how to get said information. Rather than remembering the information, the challenge now is to sort and connect innumerable fragments of information. The computer became the ultimate medium to keep information accessible to the public.
A contemporary library can go without any book and focus on its essentials: obtaining, storing and providing published information in a reading room atmosphere. The given space allocation plan makes it difficult to truly ask the initial question. However, to find an answer to it, it is important to question the necessity and benefit of a new city library.
In Esslingen, many of the 80'000 inhabitants are students. Together with the Neckar river, a highway divides the town in two. Furthermore one can easily observe the separation between the medieval old town and the more recently built quarters as well as rich and poor areas. Its cultural and economical life takes a bearing on Stuttgart, the state capital nearby.
Stuttgart's new monumental city library by Ein Young Yi was recently inaugurated in 2011. It lacks a reading room but offers a café and a roof terrace. Artificial lighting dominates the interior. The atmosphere resembles a shopping Mall.
The Stuttgart region hosts an abundance of libraries. Their most frequent users are students. Both potential building sites seem unsuitable to build on. The first would force immense infrastructural changes. The latter suggests demolishing or building upon an existing building in the historic old town. Both options would change an urban fabric worth protecting.
The new library should apply to contemporary media culture and the digital age. New technologies must not threaten the existence of the library as a cultural institution. The new library should become part of the townscape and strengthen the city's identity, as it should be used lively by various people.
There is not one central library building but many all over the city. The libraries will be widely seen and located near everything. The libraries offer the atmospheric essence of a reading room, silence and concentration. The new libraries go without analogue publications. Everything is accessible online. The library city matches the expectation of our generation to get everything, anytime, everywhere for free. Published information belongs to the public domain.
What used to be a library card works now as a key to enter the library units. Similar to the sharing economy, one can make reservations for a time spot on an app and use the library reading room. The centrally organised data volumes allow the library to keep the activities in the units under surveillance. This, of course, could be used for good and for bad, such as avoiding procrastination by censoring certain content, for market research or security reasons.
One library unit may improve the context of certain locations. Residents of areas with a lower education will have to interact with the library. The library is a recognisable ongoing motive that runs across the entire city. Of course, the given sites could also host a library unit.
Similar to its content the form is comprised of the basics. The interior shapes the exterior. There are few steps to climb to enter the area where one can sit down and study. Step into the light, so to speak. There is a clear hierarchy between the two rooms in one unit. One is smaller, the other is floating above the ground. It is self-evident where to enter. The shape of one unit allows to combine them along the horizontal and the vertical axis if needed; a plus also when it comes to transportation.
"A man with a book goes to the light. That is the way a library begins."
Louis I. Kahn
The facade is a playful reference to a regular shipping container. It guarantees stability and protection. Two foldable facade elements protect the unit when not used and offer comfort when in use. The opaque sides can be used to communicate with the exterior for instance with graffiti art.
The interior provides a formal strictness to maintain an atmosphere of concentration. At first sight, there seems to be only the very necessary. A desk and a chair. Even technical features like sockets are hidden. Along one side runs a wall unit where optional furniture such as the Living Tower by Verner Panton or a bench can be stored. Furniture and surfaces are to be held in high quality to underline the ceremonial aspect of the atmosphere.