libraries, part 1

for the book-obsessed, libraries are a fantasy trip - seemingly endless rows of discoveries, each book with its own mass and heft.  Looking at famous libraries around the world, they seem to break down into three formal categories - axial, concentric, vertical.  All of these forms derive from the same basic source however, the desire to stand at one place and be overwhelmed with the mass and multitude of the books.

The axial libraries are probably the most well-known.  A simple double-loaded corridor stretching out with flanks of bookshelves diminishing into the perspective vanishing point.  The little branch library in Louisville, Ky where I grew up was L-shaped, each wing replicating this simple axial form.  Unlike most architectural compositions that are so stridently axial, the emphasis is not on the end or apse, but rather on the parallel walls and receding stacks perpendicular to the dominant axis.  The expectation of the terminus of the axis is subverted by the richness of the books themselves.

It is interesting that what seems to be of primary importance in all these libraries, is the desire to impress, to inspire awe, at the sheer quantity of books.  It is a kind of cultural and intellectual ostentation that is particularly odd and attractive.

(Thanks to the folks on Flickr for these great photos)

More in future posts on the other forms of libraries and some future libraries.