WHAT architecture - London

Krakow Library

Library with lecture hall and car parking
Scale12000 sqm
LocationKrakow, PO
ClientKrakow Municipality
Budget€ 32000000
Design Year2011


A building made from books!?

The history of architecture contains many attempts to materialise the library as 100% book. However for reasons including technology, politics and taste, each attempt yields a closer approximation but ultimately without success. For example, Perrault’s Tres Grande Biblitheque in Paris is a library conceived as ‘urban book ends’ yet these towers ultimately frustrate as they render the book both inaccessible (to the public) and invisible (the books are out of sight due to technical issues of daylight degradation). MVRDV’s Book Mountain, treats the book as an interiorised physical object that, when part of a shelving system, provides a mass upon which the user climbs the library whilst browsing…

Such concerns with the library manifest as book set the ambitions for this library project sited in central Krakow. Could a library indeed be made from books? If not, then what kind of architectural expression could approximate Borges’ Library of Babel: a library containing every letter, every word, and every sentence of every language? Could the façade express the withdrawal of books by borrowers?

The proposed strategy results in an extraordinarily thin building so as to present a wall of books. The plan is just 5m wide (narrow?). Circulation is based upon the Dewey Classification system such that the colour coded spines of  books aid navigation around the library. In doing so the Dewey classification system provides an interior treatment to the library that differs from the hyper-abstraction of the exterior where the spine / title is not seen, only the alternation of coloured covers sandwiching white pages. A facade barcode made of books? Each time a book is withdrawn the façade is modified…


Having configured the library as a wall of books, the library is then connected into the existing urban grain of Krakow by acknowledging the both the scale and style of the existing streetscape.