A lower-middle class suburb of Rotterdam played host to the Netherlands’ Princess Laurentien this week, as she unveiled Book Mountain, a new library and town center by MVRDV. Spijkenisse, a quiet neighborhood across from the city’s busy industrial port, has a 10% illiteracy rate—Book Mountain, explains the architects, is an "advertisement for reading."
The project took nearly a decade to complete, and cost $39 million. The massive glass-and-timber building houses around almost 10,000 feet of bookshelves, ramping upwards in a continuous "mountain" that ends at the roof, where a cafe gives visitors views of the neighborhood and port. Around it, a mixed-use development of 42 affordable housing units, a parking lot, and various commercial spaces form a red brick podium for the library, which glows like a beacon at night.
"The exterior of the library refers in shape and materiality to the traditional Dutch Farm," explain the architects. "It’s a reminder of the towns agricultural past, which has grown from farming village to Ville Nouvelle in the past 40 years." The barn shape pops up again and again in MVRDV’s work, and provides a contextual, stereotypically "Dutch" framework for their more experimental ideas about space. Like in their 2005 Didden Village, a rooftop addition where every room is its own self-contained "barn house."
Before Rotterdam became one of the busiest ports in the world, Spijkenisse was a quiet agrarian community. The bookshelves are made from recycled flower pots, and the public spaces have no a/c. Instead, a system of shading devices and natural ventilation suffice. It is an unpretentious take on sustainability, referencing none of founding partner Winy Maas’ challenging ideas on "green" architecture.
The elephant in the proverbial library is sun damage—if you’ve ever left a book in sunlight for a month or two, you know why. MVRDV explain that the normal shelf life (sorry) of a library book is only four years, due to inevitable wear and tear. So, they figure, long-term sun damage isn’t really an issue. And it can’t be any worse than .