In keeping with the stereotypes associated with libraries, library interior design is seen by some as a reasonably monotonous and boring practice. While there are iconic libraries that appeal to book and architecture lovers alike, many tend to believe these spaces are far from creative in their design.
This notion, however, is changing.
The architecture and interior design of functional public spaces in the 21st century have seen a distinct shift. Hospitals and educational facilities have lost their institutionalised feel of yesteryear in favour of design that engages, encourages comfort and inspires healing in the former and learning in the latter. Libraries are now following suit.
Rather than being harsh or austere, the newest wave of libraries are as much about quiet learning as they are about interaction and communication.
While the change can be attributed to a variety of factors, one key justification for the design change is a shift in library politics and culture. According to New South Wales state librarian Alex Byrne, library culture has become far more flexible than ever before.
”We have quiet places in the library for people who want to concentrate but we don’t insist on quiet libraries,” says Byrne. “That is because we realise it is a social activity.”
Byrne says libraries are now seen as community spaces that emphasise socialisation and interaction, and this is where the design element comes into play. Instead of standing as function-orientated spaces, they are now promoted for their comfort – a home away from home of sorts.
”Physically, they are now much less warehouses of books, but now very much like work rooms and living rooms,” says Byrne.
This change has allowed designers to get creative to develop spaces that are recognised for more than their function.
Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in Connecticut, USA plays with the notion of form and function, with the cave-like space as welcoming and comfortable as it is dramatic and unique.
While not quite so luxurious or comforting, the José Vasconcelos Library in Mexico City, Mexico is a testament to transparent design. The entire space was built using transparent or semi-transparent materials, optimising light, showcasing both the endless sea of books and the library’s centerpiece, an enormous whale skeleton.
Libraries are not just pigeonholed as quiet, functional space anymore; they can be a talking point. With the changing attitudes within these spaces, contrary to the stereotype, library visitors can even talk about the design while still in the library.