The Architecture of Libraries, Presidential and Otherwise

John Hill
31. August 2015
ennead architects: William J. Clinton Presidential Center (Photo: Albert Vecerka/Esto)

This compilation is hardly an exhaustive list of the libraries feature on World-Architects; many more can be found in the Projects section. For more photographs and information on the libraries below, which are presented in reverse chronological order and feature snippets of text by the architects, click on the project name to see the projects in the architects' profiles. And for more information on the Barack Obama Foundation's RFQ (Request for Qualifications), see the Headline in our Daily News.

BCQ arquitectura barcelona
Library Joan Maragall

Barcelona, Spain

The motto with which the project was presented in the ideas competition was “Garden of Light” These words sum up the two ideas of the project: maintaining and improving the existing garden, while at the same time providing joyful and well lit spaces. The main decision has been to construct the new building under the old existing garden and not to occupy a part of this space. The library inserts under the garden of Villa Florida civic center under the shade of its trees. Inside, a landscape in itself, articulated and changing, where each use and each user find their place. It is a personalized and unique space.

BCQ arquitectura barcelona: Library Joan Maragall (Photo: Ariel Ramirez)

El Roure Community Centre and La Ginesta Library

Begues, Spain

The community centre El Roure and the library La Ginesta are a mix cultural facility which includes a community centre with a multipurpose theatre and a municipal library as a result of a joint work among technicians, administration and citizens. Fully integrated into its surroundings, the centre is a social and cultural catalyst which enhances a natural space by the landscape recovering of Begues Stream and of a downy oak which names the centre.


ikon.5 architects
Medgar Evers College Library

New York, NY, USA

Set within the existing Bedford building of The City University of New York, the Medgar Evers College Library transforms an existing 45,000 square foot traditional library into a modern information commons. A new addition, located adjacent to the library, adds a glassy 2,000 square foot welcome center that gives the library a more civic presence on the street while providing new front door to the College along Bedford Avenue.

ikon.5 architects: Medgar Evers College Library (Photo: Jeffrey Totaro)

Koning Eizenberg Architecture, Inc.
Pico Branch Library
Santa Monica, California, USA

Located in the center of Virginia Avenue Park, the library is surrounded by low income apartment residents to the north and single family households to the south. The interactive design process quickly revealed the community desire to maintain all green space and favored locating the library at the edge of the Saturday Farmer’s Market Plaza. The active face of the library replaces the blank face of an existing building and bumps into the market with a resonance that energized the community, and around which, librarians developed programs about food and health.

Koning Eizenberg Architecture, Inc.: Pico Branch Library (Photo: Courtesy of Koning Eizenberg Architecture)

A*PT Architecture
Mariners Harbor Library

Staten Island, USA

The New York Public Library commissioned this new library as part of the Design and Construction Excellence program spearheaded by the NYC Department of Design and Construction. The first library in its neighborhood, a former oystering community, it was conceived by both client and architect to become a public gathering place for reading, knowledge, and contemplation as well as a convenient resource for learning. The design concept for the single-story building is an oyster shell cracked open, rough on the outside and mother-of-pearl on the inside, to honor the area’s rich maritime and oystering history.

A*PT Architecture: Mariners Harbor Library (Photo: Courtesy of A*PT Architecture)

Gerber Architekten
King Fahad National Library

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The new building of the King Fahad National Library acts as the functional core of the city strip, which is currently being developed intensively. The blocks of the strip have been reconfigured by the inclusion of public spaces for leisure and recreation. The existing open space on the site itself has been landscaped to provide a generous public square with neighbouring planted areas. The 20,000 m² plaza at the eastern part of the site is a valuable addition to the recreational facilities for local people. Together with the library it is an urban unit, which forms the connecting element between the two parallel traffi carteries either side of the city strip, and a new centre of attraction through various connections to the neighbouring areas.

Gerber Architekten: King Fahad National Library (Photo: Christian Richters)

Marble Fairbanks
Glen Oaks Branch Library

Queens, New York, USA

Our design process focused early on the massing of the building in relationship to the zoning of the site. Site constraints pushed us to innovate in section, utilizing space below grade to meet the demand for double the square footage allowed by zoning. ... The previous library building had a solid brick façade, so this project was an opportunity to transform that relationship and engage the community by exposing much of the interior to the street. The glass storefront and channel glass provide visual transparency and a luminous glow.  

Marble Fairbanks: Glen Oaks Branch Library (Photo: Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo)

Library of Birmingham

Birmingham, Great Britain

The Library of Birmingham is a transparent glass building. Its delicate filigree skin is inspired by the artisan tradition of this once industrial city. Elevators and escalators dynamically placed in the heart of the library forms connections between the eight circular spaces within the building. These rotundas play an important role not only in the routing through the library  but also provide natural light and ventilation.

Mecanoo: Library of Birmingham (Photo: Christian Richters)

James B. Hunt Jr. Library

Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

It is one of only a few libraries in the world that have an automated book delivery system (ABDS) which houses books in a warehouse-style shelving system accessible only by “robots” which reduces the area needed for an equivalent number of books to 1/9th. Not to mention, this ABDS is sized to hold 2,000,000 volumes. The library hired a student to design the software interface so students can still browse the volumes on any device as if they were still walking standard bookshelves. Every time a book is checked out by a student it migrates closer to the librarian’s work station to reduce delivery time. 

Snøhetta: James B. Hunt Jr. Library (Photo: Jeff Goldberg/Esto)

JKMM Architects
Seinäjoki City Library

Seinäjoki, Finland

The key point of reference for the new library design was its location in the valuable environment of the civic centre created by Aalto - a masterpiece of modern architecture. The aim was to initiate a dialogue between the new and the old part. Dividing the new building into three sculpture-like sections was an important insight that helped to reconcile its large volume with the scale of the Aalto centre. The new library thus relates to its surroundings.

JKMM Architects: Seinäjoki City Library (Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo)

Vidal Tomás Arquitectes
Collage Building

Barcelona, Spain

The Collage Building – Cultural centre Teresa Pàmies – is an architecture of proximity, connected with the urban landscape and the social necessities of Barcelona. The project works as a  vertical  city organized by horizontal layers, each one related with the others through perforations and voids. The building groups different facilities: a nursery, a young centre, a library, a community centre  and an auditorium.

Vidal Tomás Arquitectes: Collage Building (Photo: Jose Hevia)

The Library

Copenhagen, Denmark

The new culture house consists of four clearly defined programs: a children’s library, a youth library, a library for adults and a concert hall. These four functions are stacked on top of each other like a series of golden “books”. Each "book" is a world of its own with individual interiors and furnishment. The spaces between the books are open zones for flexible use. This gives a varied coherence between open and closed spaces. The open spaces are marked by the immediate context and the closed areas as completely choreographed places.

COBE: The Library (Photo: Courtesy of COBE)

Coelacanth K&H Architects Inc.
Kanazawa Umimirai Library

Ishikawa, Japan

Libraries in Japan are moving towards a model that encourages readers to stay and linger, instead of their original function as spaces for collecting and lending out books. Reflecting the general trend for libraries to facilitate reading as well as other functions, this library uses compact automated shelves that operate as a closed stack system. This is combined with halls and meeting rooms that promote social exchange between its users, much like a community center. The facility is also expected to serve as a new hub for social life among the local community.

Coelacanth K&H Architects Inc.: Kanazawa Umimirai Library (Photos: Satoshi Asakawa)

Helen & Hard
Vennesla Library

Vennesla, Norway

The new library in Vennesla comprises a library, a café, meeting places and administrative areas, and links an existing community house and learning centre together. Supporting the idea of an inviting public space, all main public functions have been gathered into one generous space allowing the structure combined with furniture and multiple spatial interfaces to be visible in the interior and from the exterior. ... In this project, we developed a rib concept to create useable hybrid structures that combine a timber construction with all technical devices and the interior.

Helen & Hard: Vennesla Library (Photo: Emile Ashley)

Davis Brody Bond
District of Columbia Public Libraries: Dorothy I. Height / Benning Neighborhood

Washington, DC, USA

The Benning Library is the first in a series of new libraries in Washington that are designed to be flexible and open, to meet the needs of the community now and in the future. The completed facility includes community spaces on the lower level including a 100-person multi-purpose room, two 12-person conference rooms and a public gathering and exhibition space. ... The library has space to allow the collection to expand to up to 80,000 items.

Davis Brody Bond: Dorothy I. Height / Benning Neighborhood Library (Photo: Paúl Rivera/

Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp
Surry Hills Library & Community Centre

Sydney, Australia

Establishing a new Australian standard of excellence for environmentally sustainable design in civic buildings, the building includes: use of planting together with a thermal labyrinth for passive filtering and tempering of air; incorporation of extensive natural light; solar-tracking timber louvre systems; automated fabric shading; mixed mode ventilation; extensive photovoltaic array; geothermal cooling bores; green roof; rainwater collection and recycling; and sustainable material selection.

Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp: Surry Hills Library & Community Centre (Photo: John Gollings)

ARX Portugal Arquitectos
Ílhavo City Library

Ílhavo, Aveiro, Portugal

Ílhavo City Library is located in the remains of the Manor Visconde de Almeida, a noble house from the 17th-18th century, later transformed and demolished. ... The building is located on the periphery of the town, an area with little urban expansion, still fairly inarticulated and problematic. We chose not only to design an object, the library, but to intervene in the clarification and consolidation of urban fragments and volumes with no apparent overall coherence.

Wiel Arets Architects
Utrecht University Library

Utrecht, Netherlands

The Utrecht University Library, established in 1636, is located on the Uithof campus, situated a short distance from the city center. It is comprised of the library itself and an adjacent parking garage with multiple voids–between which is a courtyard garden and a café named for ‪Johannes Gutenberg‬–and the fenestration of both is fritted with an abstracted image of fossilized papyrus.

Wiel Arets Architects: Utrecht University Library (Photo: Jan Bitter)

Seattle Central Library

Seattle, Washington, USA

At a moment when libraries are perceived to be under threat from a shrinking public realm on one side and digitization on the other, the Seattle Central Library creates a civic space for the circulation of knowledge in all media, and an innovative organizing system for an ever-growing physical collection – the Books Spiral.

OMA / LMN: Seattle Central Library (Photo: Phillipe Ruault)

ennead architects
William J. Clinton Presidential Center

Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

The architectural and site design of this Presidential complex maximizes public park acreage, responds to its riverfront location, connects downtown Little Rock with North Little Rock, and preserves a historic railroad station bridge. To achieve these objectives, the main body of the Center is turned perpendicular to the river and elevated off the ground plane, allowing the new 30-acre city park along the south bank of the Arkansas River to flow underneath.

ennead architects: William J. Clinton Presidential Center (Photo: Timothy Hursley)

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