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A Minimal, Futuristic Library. And — Gasp — It’s Got Books!

At a time when libraries are swapping their beloved stacks for cold digital repositories, one city in Japan has built something downright radical: a public library with real, live books!

The library has precisely one decorative element, the stacks.

Kanazawa Umimirai Library, in Kanazawa City, is like an art gallery for dead trees. It’s got a minimal white reading room that stretches 148 feet by 148 feet and has precisely one decorative element, the stacks. The idea is to surround visitors with “a treasure trove of books,” the design studio, Coelacanth K&H Architects writes, and evoke their “overwhelming physical presence, something that the convenience of electronic and digital books cannot offer.”

More challengingly, the architects wanted to restore a sense of pleasure to burying one’s nose in a book. So the library is designed to be the ultimate reading environment. A facade punch-cut with some 6,000 portholes throws soft, mottled light indoors. A floor heating system warms visitors in the winter, and large openings in the roof circulate fresh air in the summer. A 40-foot-tall ceiling gives the place a cathedral-like calm.

It might appear a tad regressive or worse impractical to tether a library’s identity so explicitly to physical books, when other libraries are getting rid of paper altogether. But the architects insist that the building is enough of a tabula rasa to be adapted to new uses. In short, what makes the space great for showing off books — its simple, boxy form — can also be great for whatever comes next, even, dare we say, a world without books.

[Photos by Satoshi Asakawa; hat tip to ArchDaily] SL