By Diana Budds
February 07, 2017
[Photos: via Dominique Coulon and Associates]
Libraries are like the Madonnas of the architectural world—changing, evolving, and morphing with the times. Now they're in the midst of a technological reinvention. And as they shed their physical media and go digital, libraries' most significant contribution to a community is often not as a repository of books—but a beacon that draws people together.
Thionville—a city in Northeastern France near the Luxembourg border—opened a new library last year that embodies this shift. Designed by the Strasbourg-based firm Dominique Coulon and Associates, the space is brimming with details designed to foster a sense of community. The architects hope it becomes the city's collective living room; to appeal to the different types of people who might use the library, they filled it with lots of unique moments, like rooms that have distinctive personalities, differing furniture, and plenty of outdoor spaces.
There's a sense of unexpectedness throughout the building, which begins with the structure's footprint. It's sinuous and amoeba-like, so from the sidewalk you never really know where the building will meander. As people walk around and inside the library, the structure's entirety comes into focus and they encounter hidden courtyards and garden spaces. Inside, there are more moments of discovery: Reading nooks built like cubbies into the walls, music-practice rooms covered in tactile (and sound insulating) materials like carpet and cork, couches where multiple people can recline, and space-age Lucite lounge chairs suspended from the ceiling. People can have lunch at a cafe, or sit individually with a book. Every new discovery and spatial aberration encourages even more exploration. All of these elements seem more apt for fancy tech office than a musty public library.
"There is no unequivocal reading of the space," the architects write. "The perception one has of it reveals a complexity and an unexpected richness. It is a place of freedom."
Libraries have long been bastions of creativity and free thought. Technology—which allows us to get virtually every book, movie, or song on our Kindles and smartphones, no matter the time or place—might have seemed like the nail in the coffin for libraries, but as the Thionville design shows, cleverly reinventing these spaces might make them more popular than ever.