Throughout history, the library has existed in society as a repository of knowledge and a space for cultural exchange.
While the function has remained broadly the same, the form has varied greatly, giving rise to many wonderful buildings. In our latest article, we have put together just four of what we consider to be some of the world’s most beautiful libraries.
Located in the county of Vest-Agder in Norway, the stunning Vennesla Library is one of the most original and eye-catching public buildings constructed in recent years.
Externally, the library appears warm and welcoming, with its large transparent facade opening out invitingly on to the city’s main square. Internally, the Vennesla Library is enclosed by 27 laminated timber ‘ribs’. The ribs are a distinctive design feature, but are also utilitarian, wrapping around the ceiling and the walls to serve as bookshelves, lighting and seating.
Completed in 2011, the library was designed by Helen & Hard Architects and has won numerous architectural and design awards, including the Norwegian state prize for outstanding buildings.
The Library of Birmingham
The Library of Birmingham, designed by Dutch architects Mecanoo, is the jewel in the Second City’s architectural crown. A stunning design of courage and ambition, the Library is described by Mecanoo architect Francine Houben as the ‘People’s Palace’, the design of which was ‘inspired by the energy of this great city’.
That much is clear in the shimmering filigree facade of the Library, inspired by Birmingham’s famous jewellery quarter. Inside, the Library boasts ten floors and a sunken amphitheatre, while the delicate tracery of the exterior casts patterns on the walls and floors of the reading rooms.
At 31,000 square meters the Library of Birmingham is the largest public library in Europe, as well as the largest public cultural space. It opened in September 2013, replacing the iconic brutalist Central Library and is estimated to have cost £188.8 million.
The Klementinum Library
The oldest library on our list, the Klementinum Library in Prague, Czech Republic, is part of a large complex of buildings constructed by the Jesuits following their arrival in the area in 1556. The library itself was opened in 1722 as part of the Jesuit university and has remained unaltered since the 18th century.
The Klementinum, which is now the National Library of the Czech Republic, houses 20,000 books as well as a number of geographical and astronomical globes beautifully illustrated by the Jesuits themselves. The magnificent baroque ceiling frescos were painted by Jan Hiebl and depict motifs of education, as well as portraits of the Jesuit saints and patrons of the university.
Today, the Klementinum serves as the National Library of the Czech Republic.
George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore
The George Peabody Library opened in 1878 and was designed by architect Edmund G. Lind in collaboration with provost Dr Nathaniel H. Morison. Its ornate interior was designed in the neo-Grec style popular during the period.
One of the most iconic features of the Peabody Library is the large atrium reading room in the Central Hall, which rises majestically 61 feet from the black and white marble floor to the delicately latticed skylight. Five floors wrap around the atrium, each adorned with intricately woven cast-iron balconies.
The library underwent a $1 million renovation between July 2002 and May 2004, and today houses over 300,000 volumes of mostly 18th and 19th-century literature.