There’s something about libraries that gives them a magnetic draw: maybe it’s the vast amount of information and records contained within, or that you might find your next great read inside, or just that they’re a haven of peace and quiet from the rest of our hectic lives.
Whatever the reason, we like to make them look nice, and there are plenty of libraries around the world that go above and beyond in terms of architecture and stand out as some truly beautiful buildings. We’re looking at some of the best eye candy that you can take in as you delve into your favourite literary classics.
Starfield Library, Seoul, South Korea
The Starfield library in Seoul has a futuristic-sounding name, and it resides in a futuristic setting: the world’s largest underground shopping mall. 144,000 square metres of the COEX shopping mall are on a single underground floor, and in the centre of all this is the Starfield Library. It really is an incredible looking space, with some 50,000 books and 600 magazines across a huge range of genres and subject matters available. Much of the material in this section can be read on iPad screens around the library. There’s also an events centre that hosts talks, lectures and concerts. Oh, and it (and the mall) are located in the Gangnam District, the one that inspired the song.
The Stuggart City Library, Stuggart, Germany
This library is very minimalist and sharply defined in design, with lots of very straight edges and clean white surfaces. It creates a look of a sort of book heaven if you imagine the white floors are clouds. Or maybe, if you’re feeling a bit edgier, it has a look of a very ordered library in a bizarre dystopian city. Whatever your interpretation, it’s certainly eye-catching, and easy on the eyes. It was designed to be futuristic, though it also takes design cues from the Roman Pantheon, as well as being inspired by Stanley Kubrick films. There’s a lot to think about as you dive into the library’s many books.
The George Peabody Library, Baltimore, USA
The George Peabody Library really creates a feeling of vastness, perhaps more than any other on this list. Towering and grand, it’s located in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, and is the main research library of Johns Hopkins University. While the university is a private research institution, the library is open to the public, as George Peabody (a famous Baltimore philanthropist) wanted it to be “for the free use of all persons who consult it”. It definitely makes you feel small with its high stretching floors, and it contains some 300,000 volumes mainly dating from the 19thcentury when it was built. Its incredible design means it’s been used a few times as a filming location, most notably Sleepless in Seattle.
The Maughan Library, London, UK
If you’d rather go to a library here in London, then why not take a visit to the Maughan Library? The Maughan is another research library, this one for King’s College London, and is another stunner. The building has a 19th-century Gothic design (the 19th century was a good one for libraries, clearly) and was formerly home to the headquarters of the Public Record Office. There are around 750,000 items in here, so you’re not going to be short of stuff to read. The domed Round Reading Room inside was also inspired by the one inside the British Museum, and it has a beckoning feeling to come and read inside it. We also covered the Maughan Library in our best-hidden libraries in London guide, if you’re looking for more reading spots in the city.
Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Egypt
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is located in the city of Alexandria, Egypt, and was built and designed to be a modern homage to perhaps the most famous and discussed library in history, the legendary Library of Alexandria. While it’s disputed whether there was a single ancient library of Alexandria and what happened to it, what’s not disputed is that the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is an amazing building. It’s got enough shelf space for 8 million books and also features a number of galleries, permanent exhibitions, and even a planetarium. The whole place is bursting with collections and bits and pieces of recorded history, and it also looks like a paradise with its large pool on the outside. It’s all meant to invoke a feeling of learning and knowledge, and it certainly achieves it.
The Library of Trinity College, Dublin
This is another beautiful-looking building and is also a legal deposit library, meaning that publishers in Ireland are required to deposit a copy of their publications there, free of charge. The most amazing area is the Long Room, which stretches far both horizontally and vertically. Supposedly, it was the inspiration for the Jedi archives in the Star Wars films, but back on planet Earth, it’s something that you can just stand and marvel at. The library also contains The Book of Kells, which is a precious artefact from 800CE and is an illustrated version of the New Testament. On the outside of the building, you can find a version of the Sphere Within Sphere, a sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro, other versions of which can be found in a number of other locations around the world.
The Biblioteca Vasconcelos, Mexico City, Mexico
Located in the downtown area of Mexico City, this library is dedicated to philosopher and former presidential candidate José Vasconcelos. It almost has the look of a gigantic warehouse devoted solely to books, with its transparent walls and floors. It boasts a collection of over 575,000 books, music and other multimedia materials, and there’s a film room and a music room. The building also hosts a number of artistic works, most prominently Ballena by Gabriel Orozco, a large sculpture of a whale. If the library itself isn’t good enough for you, it’s also surrounded by lush gardens to walk through. There really is a sense that you could get lost for hours in this particularly dense library.
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, France
Bibliothèque nationale de France, or The National Library of France, is a huge and wondrous building, as you might expect from a national library. It was founded by Charles V, and the earliest incarnation of it was originally located within the Louvre. It’s since moved to Paris and has been expanded extensively over the decades. It now spans across four main buildings, each 22 stories high and made of glass. It contains around 41 million different items, including 15 million books. It also contains a large collection of artworks, including Louis XIV (the Sun King)’s famous huge globes, which were also originally kept in the Louvre. The Library is certainly worth a visit if you’re in Paris and interested in French history.