Libraries are much more than storehouses for books or stuffy reading rooms. Some of the most impressive examples function as glorious public spaces, archives of historical treasures, and centers for cutting edge research. The contemporary library has become an architect's dream project, and it's no surprise to see the field's most respected names like Rem Koolhaas, Sou Fujimoto and Frank Lloyd Wright at the top of our list of builders behind the most surprising and intriguing libraries in the world.
Photo by Hufton + Crow
1. Vennesla Library and Cultural Center: Vennesla, Norway.
Norwegian architecture group Helen & Hard designed this library to resemble a whale skeleton. Its 27 glue-laminated timber arches are multi-functional; the structures not only support the roof, but also serve as bookcases and private reading nooks.
Photo sourced via Reddit
2. National Library of China: Beijing, China.
As the largest library in Asia (which is no small feat), the National Library of China needed ample space for seating. This triple-tiered study area, complete with large tables and bar-like counters, takes advantage of every square meter of floor space.
Photos by Edmund Sumner
3. Musashino Art University Museum & Library: Tokyo, Japan.
Designed by architect Sou Fujimoto, this "forest of books" contains extra functionality: from the bookshelf walls, to staircases that double as seating. The visitor is sheltered by books on all sides.
Photo courtesy of the Municipal Library Stuttgart
4. Stuttgart City Library: Stuttgart Germany.
In this perfectly cube-shaped building by Yi Architects, every wall is wrapped in books. The staircases spiral you through the building from the center of the space, leaving no wall space devoid of books.
Photo sourced via Exact Editions Ltd
5. Biblioteca Vasconcelos: Mexico City, Mexico.
Known affectionately as a "Megabiblioteca" to the urbanites of Mexico City, this library by Alberto Kalach is meant to reflect the density of a jungle. We were delighted to see colorful Verner Panton Chairs in the midst!
Photo by Raquel Cayre
6. Guggenheim Museum's Reading Room: New York City, USA.
Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic Guggenheim Museum contains wonders around every (rounded) corner, and this keyhole doorway is one of our favorites. He originally designed this room as an archive, but the room was left unfinished until 1978 when architect Richard Meier completed it as a reading room, complete with original oak furniture that pays homage to Frank Lloyd Wright's vision.
Photos by Landscape Voice
7. Seattle Central Library: Seattle, Washington.
Rem Koolhaas' design for this now iconic library is instantly recognizable by its glass and diamond-shaped, steel facade. The design was responsive to studies showing that the public found libraries to be stuffy and uninviting. The final design prioritizes light with its glass construction and public areas for human interaction.
Photo courtesy of UC San Diego
8. Geisel Library: San Diego, California.
As the most recognizable building on UCSD's campus, the brutalist exterior (designed by William Pereira) now acts as the university's official logo. Surprisingly, the library's namesake Theodor Geisel is also recognizable, but by his pen name of Dr. Seuss. The library contains an extensive collection of original manuscripts and memorabilia by Dr. Seuss.
Photo by Caryn B. Davis
9. Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library: New Haven, Connecticut.
As you might have guessed from its name, this Yale University library holds an extensive collection of extremely rare books. In order to protect these documents from potential harm, the building is equipped with state-of-the-art security systems that will fill the room with fire-suppressant gas and freeze all books in the event of a paper-eating bug infestation.
Photo courtesy of the British Library
10. British Library: London, England.
Since 1869, British & Irish law require publishers to send one copy of every publication to the library, and today receive over 1,500 titles weekly. The British Library aims to hold every newspaper ever published in the UK, and their current collection includes over 60 million copies. Robots are deployed to collect requested materials since the newspaper archive's low-oxygen storage chambers poses a danger to librarians.