Libraries (5). Biblioteca España- Medellín

Biblioteca España is located in one of the informal areas of Medellín, the Colombian city that is unfortunately known for drug traficking. Giancarlo Mazzanti’s architectural project configures three volumes as black rocks; but the most interesting element is the idea to locate such a cultural venue in an area in which culture is far from being perceived as a political priority… The city of Medellín tries to improve the quality of life of its citizens through this kind of actions, adressing reality and not just an ideal image.

Libraries (4). Agora Coruña, a new neighborhood library

The Agora is a recently opened civic center in the Ronda de Outeiro area, in La Coruña. Iit covers one of the densest neighborhoods in what is one of the denser Spanish cities. The project (by Rojo+Fernandez Shaw arquitectos) uses the land slope to create an interesting multilevel architecture, in which the library is on a side wing, suspended over the garage entrance.


The reading room has the qualities of an almost domestic space, being a nice place to grab a book and stay for hours.



Libraries (3). El Escorial, a library for a man who ruled half the world

Philippe II of Spain (1527-1598) ruled an empire that joined to the Spanish possesions the former portuguese empire (to later become again independent) and many other possesions in Europe; this empire touched all the continents on earth, and it is said that the sun never set on it.

In 1559 the king decided to erect a new monastery in El Escorial; what initially was to be a large religious center linked to the royal pantheon became the center of the royal power. The first books arrived in 1565, and in 1576 there were already 4546 volumes. In subsequent years, the library was subject to a fire and several threats. Today it is a tourism destination (if you visit El Escorial, it is right over the main gate). It is not a space to be compared to large modern libraries, but its riches are more in the quality and age of the volumes than in their sheer number.

The main hall is 54 meters long, 9 wide and 10 high, with a barrel vault over its entire length. It is an outstanding example of interior architecture from the Renaissance.

Libraries (2). Biblioteca Virgilio Barco, Bogotá

Rogelio Salmona (1927-2007) was a renowned Colombian architect that I had the chance to work with in a project for the Madrid municipal housing agency. As a young professional he worked with Le Corbusier in Paris, and later developped in his works an interesting approach which took into acount local traditions and innovative geometries, becoming one of the leading architects in his country. This library, built during the final 1990s, shows many elements of his architecture: a high quality masonry work, a good relation with public space, and a well designed structure.

Libraries (1). BNF Richelieu- Salle Labrouste

As I have earlier mentioned, I love books in all their forms; living in a somewhat small apartment, this has led to a point in which I have to limit my physical book purchase, so I have a Kindle…  So I apreciate clearly when there is room for books, and large libraries are this kind of space. Here begins a series on architecturally relevant libraries that I have visited (not for the most) or I would not mind to visit…

A 1868 drawing (H. Linton, Le Monde Illustré) representing the then brand new space.

The French National Library (BNF) is an impressive institution that maintains many interesting reading halls. This post relates to the Salle Labrouste, in its Richelieu Building, north of the Louvre in central Paris. Salle Labrouste takes its name from Pierre François Henri Labrouste, a french architect from the XIXth century that introduced innovative uses for the then new iron structures. For what now is Salle Labrouste, opened in 1868, he created a  square of nine domes supported by extremely slender iron columns. This creates a large space with minimal structural intrusions, and a good natural light (by library standards). The domes are just visible from inside, without an external visibility as the roof covering them is a conventional one, just transformed by conventional clerestories.

Current work status. Image by Jean-Cristophe Ballot/ BNF, published in

Salle Labrouste in the larger Richeliu complex of the BNF. The large oval structure on the lower right part of the image is the Salle Ovale.

The Salle Labrouste is currently being transformed; until 1998 it housed the Départment des Livres Imprimés, and will soon house the Bibliothèque de l’Institut national d’histoire de l’art.

Salle Labrouste has an area of 1.370 sq m, and for its new function it will offer 320 reading posts.