a massive white building in the canter of a city

Futuristic Libraries: Step Inside the World’s 15 Most Forward-Thinking Libraries

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Though historians consider the 17th century to be “the golden age of libraries,” these futuristic libraries suggest a biblio-renaissance is well underway. Once a silent sanctuary for books, today—thanks to new technology and trailblazing design—contemporary interpretations of the humble education and resource hubs are far from quiet. In these modern versions, you’ll find dynamic tools and spaces, from podcast recording studios to game development labs. Robotic book-retrieval systems have made way for communal spaces punctuated with art, turning the library into a social sphere.

According to an analysis of US library attendance by Pew Research Center, millennials use libraries more than any other generation. As a result, services and spaces have evolved to appeal to digitally native generations. One tradition has been remained, though: The art of making the library an architectural centerpiece. In the spirit of buildings like Dublin’s Trinity College Library, today’s institutions are designed to inspire. Below, AD surveys the 15 most stunning futuristic libraries.

Helsinki Central Library Oodi (Helsinki, Finland)

Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo

For a cultural institution defined by silence, in a country known for its love of the same, the new Helsinki Central Library, which opens this week, has been the talk of the town. The 185,774-square-foot, Finnish spruce timber–clad library, called Oodi (“ode” in Finnish) is the work of local architect firm ALA, led by Juho Grönholm, Antti Nousjoki, and Samuli Woolston. (They were chosen following an anonymous competition.) Some of Oodi’s famous neighbors include Finlandia Hall, Alvaar Aalto’s magnificent iceberg-inspired Concert Hall, and Finnish Parliament. Finland is known for its vibrant library culture, but ALA’s design upset any traditional library model, most noticeably by relegating reading space and bookshelves to the top floor, which sits under an undulating roof (it also resembles an iceberg, creating a visual rhyme with Finlandia Hall). The library’s other two levels seem to meld into each other through a series of curving zero-threshold spaces that start in the outdoor plaza. They are spaces designed just for the public to hang out in in the heart of the city, “a civic living room.” That’s a dominant theme of the library’s design, following a mandate to promote democratic equality (other themes—active citizenship and freedom of expression—are answered by Oodi’s proximity also to the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper and the Parliament. The Living Room area also includes a theatre, a “Makers Space” equipped with 3D printers, a children’s play area, and a recording studio. (At one point the architects considered a sauna as well.) Art by Finnish artists Jani Ruscica and Otto Karvonen was commissioned for the building. With only a third of the library’s space devoted to books (a relatively meager 100,000 volumes are on the shelves at a given time), Oodi is allowed to embrace emerging technology—including book-sorting robots—to create new opportunities to access books. The library’s 3.4 million other volumes are available, for example, through a much larger, cutting-edge distribution system. It’s an exciting, new space, miles away from the old idea of libraries as dark, immovable, and quiet temples. Antti Nousjoki, one of ALA’s three partners, says, “Oodi is a large public forum of thought and action operating under the library organization, but with a range of reach and functionality well beyond a traditional book depository.”

Calgary Central Library (Calgary, Alberta)

Photo: Michael Grimm / Courtesy of Snohetta

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