Qatar National Library
OMA / Rem Koolhaas Architects
The physical impact of books has been important in terms of my entire formation. The first books that fascinated me were the fairy tales of Grim illustrated by Gustave Doré. I still remember the physical nature of those books as one of the strongest memories of my entire life. In the 1950s I would spend time in the library of the Stedelijk Museum – almost like in a living room. My first intersection of writing and architecture was Delirious New York, which I wrote in the New York Public Library, going through microfilms, old newspapers, and books. I made one particular seat my own, almost day and night.
One similarity between architecture and bookmaking is that both have unbelievably long traditions but are also forced to be of the moment, constantly updating in order to survive. We have designed many libraries and built a few. Libraries, as a typology, are so exceptionally suitable to produce radical architecture. Apparently, there is a paradox that such a traditional form produces inventive solutions, and that is the case for the Qatar National Library. The building is 138 meters long, equivalent to the length of two 747s. This is not to boast about scale but because from the beginning the idea was to make reading as accessible and as stimulating as possible to the population of Qatar as a whole. We thought we could achieve that by creating a building that was almost a single room, not divided in different sections, certainly not into separate floors.
We took a plate and folded its corners up to create terraces for the books, but also to enable access in the center of the room. You emerge immediately surrounded by literally every book – all physically present, visible, and accessible, without any particular effort. The library is a space that could contain an entire population, and also an entire population of books.
Qatar National Library contains Doha’s National Library, Public Library and University Library, and preserves the Heritage Collection, which consists of valuable texts and manuscripts related to the Arab-Islamic civilization. The public library will house over a million books and space for thousands of readers over an area of 42,000 m2. The library is part of the Education City, a new academic campus which hosts satellite campuses from leading universities and institutions from around the world.
[text by the architects]
[the project was under construction during my visit in 2013]
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