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11 Of The World's Most Beautiful Libraries

A lavishly illustrated new book pays homage to the cathedrals of free knowledge that are libraries, from the 1600s until today.

  • <p>A new, lavish coffee-table book, <em><a href="http://www.roads.co/books/libraries" target="_blank">Libraries</a></em>, pays homage to 44 of the world's most beautiful libraries. Here, the Abbey Library of St. Gall, designed by Peter Thumb, 1767.</p>
  • <p>In these photos, spines of shelved books appear like ornate mosaics; labyrinthine stacks seem like architectural gestures. The Sir Duncan Rice Library was designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, 2012.</p>
  • <p>“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future,” wrote Ray Bradbury, author of <em>Fahrenheit 451,</em> the ultimate book defenders' manifesto.</p>
  • <p>Libraries have always served as bastions of civilization, protectors of free thought and breeding grounds of ideas.</p>
  • <p>And throughout history, architects have designed libraries as vast and awe-inspiring as the miles of books they house. The Rice Library was inspired by "the ice and light of the north," as is evident in its clean and shimmering façade.</p>
  • <p>“We, as architects, have a unique opportunity to design libraries which support new ways for people to meet, interact, and share knowledge,” architect Bjarne Hammer writes in the book's forward.</p>
  • <p>Trinity College Dublin's library was built in 1592, and houses the 1,000-year-old Book of Kells. Controversy was sparked when librarians realized the long room, pictured here, bears striking resemblance to the Jedi Archives in the Jedi Temple in <em><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_College_Library#In_popular_culture" target="_blank">Star Wars</a></em>--but director George Lucas called it a coincidence.</p>
  • <p>Designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects in 1999, the Black Diamond, so called because of its highly polished black granite exterior, is a modern waterfront extension of the Royal Library of Denmark.</p>
  • <p>The library’s solid cube shape leans to one side, and toward the water, and is divided in two by a vast glazed atrium.</p>
  • <p>As well as flooding the building with natural light, this provides stunning views over the water, and creates the illusion that the Black Diamond is floating.</p>
  • <p>The National Library of Ireland was established in 1877, and the present building was opened in 1890. Today, it's a reference library with upwards of 8 million items.</p>
  • <p>Designed by FF Architekten & Martina Wronna in 2008. "The gold shingles of copper-aluminium alloy create a shimmering surface that changes with the light and the weather," write the book's editors.</p>
  • <p>The children's annex of Luckenwalde.</p>
  • <p>Designed by Max Dudler, 2009. Named after the Brothers Grimm, the interior features an atrium with a glass roof, enveloped by five stories of cherrywood terraces.</p>
  • <p>The symmetry and the sparse use of materials create a peaceful atmosphere and a quiet sense of rhythm.</p>
  • <p>Designed by Henri Labrouste, 1851, the Sainte-Genevieve Library inherited the prized collections of the sixth-century Abbey de Sainte-Geneviève. The two-story façade bears the names of 810 great figures.</p>
  • <p>Designed by Li Xiaodong Atelier, 2011. Clothed in untreated twigs, this library in the mountains outside Jiaojiehe is a dreamy haven of quiet.</p>
  • <p>Impressive windows frame peaceful views, and the external material tempers the light to allow for comfortable reading.</p>
  • <p>Upon construction, it was up to the local community to build the library's collection. They've received more than 7,000 books so far.</p>
  • <p>Designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, 2006. Made of simple materials--concrete, glass, and Nordic larch flooring--the Halmstad City Library is set in parkland on the River Nissan, overlooking the historic city centre.</p>
  • <p>A forest of columns raises the library above street level and out across<br />
the water.</p>
  • <p>Designed by Foster + Partners, 2005. Occupying a central role in the intellectual life of Berlin since the end of the Second World War, the Free University is one of the city’s most symbolic institutions.</p>
  • <p>The new library for the Faculty of Philology has become an architectural landmark, already earning the nickname "The Berlin Brain."</p>
  • <p><em>Libraries</em> is available from Roads Publishing <a href="http://www.roads.co/books/libraries" target="_blank">here</a>.</p>
  • 01 /24 | Abbey Library of St. Gall, Switzerland

    A new, lavish coffee-table book, Libraries, pays homage to 44 of the world's most beautiful libraries. Here, the Abbey Library of St. Gall, designed by Peter Thumb, 1767.

  • 02 /24 | Sir Duncan Rice Library, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

    In these photos, spines of shelved books appear like ornate mosaics; labyrinthine stacks seem like architectural gestures. The Sir Duncan Rice Library was designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, 2012.

  • 03 /24

    “Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future,” wrote Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, the ultimate book defenders' manifesto.

  • 04 /24

    Libraries have always served as bastions of civilization, protectors of free thought and breeding grounds of ideas.

  • 05 /24 | Sir Duncan Rice Library, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

    And throughout history, architects have designed libraries as vast and awe-inspiring as the miles of books they house. The Rice Library was inspired by "the ice and light of the north," as is evident in its clean and shimmering façade.

  • 06 /24

    “We, as architects, have a unique opportunity to design libraries which support new ways for people to meet, interact, and share knowledge,” architect Bjarne Hammer writes in the book's forward.

  • 07 /24 | Trinity College Dublin Library, Ireland

    Trinity College Dublin's library was built in 1592, and houses the 1,000-year-old Book of Kells. Controversy was sparked when librarians realized the long room, pictured here, bears striking resemblance to the Jedi Archives in the Jedi Temple in Star Wars--but director George Lucas called it a coincidence.

  • 08 /24 | The Black Diamond, Royal Library of Copenhagen, Denmark

    Designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects in 1999, the Black Diamond, so called because of its highly polished black granite exterior, is a modern waterfront extension of the Royal Library of Denmark.

  • 09 /24 | The Black Diamond, Royal Library of Copenhagen, Denmark

    The library’s solid cube shape leans to one side, and toward the water, and is divided in two by a vast glazed atrium.

  • 10 /24 | The Black Diamond, Royal Library of Copenhagen, Denmark

    As well as flooding the building with natural light, this provides stunning views over the water, and creates the illusion that the Black Diamond is floating.

  • 11 /24 | National Library of Ireland

    The National Library of Ireland was established in 1877, and the present building was opened in 1890. Today, it's a reference library with upwards of 8 million items.

  • 12 /24 | Luckenwalde Library, Germany

    Designed by FF Architekten & Martina Wronna in 2008. "The gold shingles of copper-aluminium alloy create a shimmering surface that changes with the light and the weather," write the book's editors.

  • 13 /24 | Luckenwalde Library, Germany

    The children's annex of Luckenwalde.

  • 14 /24 | Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Centre, Humboldt University Berlin

    Designed by Max Dudler, 2009. Named after the Brothers Grimm, the interior features an atrium with a glass roof, enveloped by five stories of cherrywood terraces.

  • 15 /24 | Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Centre, Humboldt University Berlin

    The symmetry and the sparse use of materials create a peaceful atmosphere and a quiet sense of rhythm.

  • 16 /24 | Sainte-Geneviève Library, Paris

    Designed by Henri Labrouste, 1851, the Sainte-Genevieve Library inherited the prized collections of the sixth-century Abbey de Sainte-Geneviève. The two-story façade bears the names of 810 great figures.

  • 17 /24 | LiYuan Library, Beijing

    Designed by Li Xiaodong Atelier, 2011. Clothed in untreated twigs, this library in the mountains outside Jiaojiehe is a dreamy haven of quiet.

  • 18 /24 | LiYuan Library, Beijing

    Impressive windows frame peaceful views, and the external material tempers the light to allow for comfortable reading.

  • 19 /24 | LiYuan Library, Beijing

    Upon construction, it was up to the local community to build the library's collection. They've received more than 7,000 books so far.

  • 20 /24 | Halmstad City Library, Sweden

    Designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, 2006. Made of simple materials--concrete, glass, and Nordic larch flooring--the Halmstad City Library is set in parkland on the River Nissan, overlooking the historic city centre.

  • 21 /24 | Halmstad Library, Sweden

    A forest of columns raises the library above street level and out across
    the water.

  • 22 /24 | Philological Library of the Free University, Berlin, Germany

    Designed by Foster + Partners, 2005. Occupying a central role in the intellectual life of Berlin since the end of the Second World War, the Free University is one of the city’s most symbolic institutions.

  • 23 /24 | Philological Library of the Free University, Berlin, Germany

    The new library for the Faculty of Philology has become an architectural landmark, already earning the nickname "The Berlin Brain."

  • 24 /24 | Abbey Library of St. Gall

    Libraries is available from Roads Publishing here.

"Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future," wrote Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, the ultimate book defenders' manifesto. Dating back thousands of years, through Egyptian, Greek, Persian and Roman history, libraries have always served as bastions of civilization, protectors of free thought and breeding grounds of ideas. And throughout history, architects have designed libraries as vast and awe-inspiring as the miles of books they house. A new, lavish coffee-table book, Libraries, pays homage to 44 of these vaults of wisdom around the world. In these photos, spines of shelved books appear like ornate mosaics; labyrinthine stacks seem like architectural gestures.

"We, as architects, have a unique opportunity to design libraries which support new ways for people to meet, interact, and share knowledge," architect Bjarne Hammer writes in the book's forward. From the centuries-old Trinity College Dublin library, which bears striking resemblance to the Jedi Archives in Star Wars, to the ultra-modern Seattle Central Library, with its latticed metallic façade, these cathedrals of knowledge are varied in their outward designs, but serve the same vitally important end: to empower people by making books free and accessible.

This visual celebration of libraries past and present bodes well for their future—perhaps libraries will even outlive us all, as Jorge Luis Borges predicted in Labyrinths: "I suspect that the human species—the unique species—is about to be extinguished, but the Library will endure," he wrote, "illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly motionless, equipped with precious volumes, useless, incorruptible, secret."

Libraries is available from Roads Publishing here.

Slideshow Credits: 01 / Stiftsbibliothek St Gallen; 02 / Adam Mørk; 03 / Adam Mørk; 04 / Adam Mørk; 05 / Adam Mørk; 06 / Adam Mørk; 07 / Mark Colliton; 08 / Ralph Richter; 09 / Ralph Richter; 10 / Ralph Richter; 11 / National Library of Ireland; 12 / Thomas Lewandovski; 13 / Thomas Lewandovski; 16 / Paula Soler-Moya; 17 / Li Xiadong Atelier; 18 / Li Xiadong Atelier; 19 / Li Xiadong Atelier; 20 / Adam Mørk; 21 / Adam Mørk; 22 / Benjamin Antony Monn/Artur Images; 23 / Benjamin Antony Monn/Artur Images;

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