The ingeniously simple concept for the library at Tokyo's Musashino Art University speaks volumes: it's made entirely of wood bookshelves, with a glass exterior.
Inside, architect Sou Fujimoto's spiral-shaped design naturally spurs the visitor onward and features light-filled, comfortable corners for reading and easy access to volumes. It's a reminder that even in the digital age, libraries can be inviting public spaces-and that their beauty extends beyond the gilded, frescoed libraries of old.
In Vancouver, architect Moshe Safdie's Central Library plays with tradition, rising like a modern-day Colosseum. Bridge walkways connect to study areas from a skylit concourse filled with shops and cafés.
Libraries often act as such cultural gathering places, whether enshrining masterpieces or hosting present-day events. Visitors turn up at the museum-like Marciana Library in Venice to admire works by Renaissance artists like Titian and Tintoretto. In Stuttgart, Germany, meanwhile, the library's exterior lights up by night, and you can join locals for readings in the mod all-white interior or for drinks on the roof terrace.
If you prefer your library to look like something out of Harry Potter, set your sights on the medieval reading room at Oxford University's Bodleian library. Kings and Nobel Prize winners have studied beneath its intricate wood-paneled ceiling. The collection includes beautiful rare maps, a Shakespeare First Folio, and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible.
Johns Hopkins University
George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore
The Peabody Stack Room's five-tier soaring atrium has wrought-iron balconies and columns so graceful that Nathaniel H. Morison, its first provost, called it a "cathedral of books." It's one of America's most beautiful college libraries, with a setting so gorgeous that weddings and special events are often held here. Bibliophiles come not only for the design but to browse 18th- and 19th-century volumes of archaeology as well as British and American history and literature.
The Royal Library / Photographic Studio Karsten Bundgaard
The Royal Library Copenhagen, Denmark
Known as the Black Diamond, this neo-Modernist building was built in 1999 as an addition to the Royal Library's original complex. Its striking steel, glass, and black granite structure contains a concert hall, a popular café, and exhibition spaces. The Black Diamond treats visitors to spectacular harbor views and a ceiling fresco by one of Denmark's most famous artists, Per Kirkeby. Guided tours are available on Saturdays.
Dreyer s.r.o., www.klementinum.com
The baroque Library Hall, with its rare gilded globes and spectacular frescoes depicting science and art, is just one building in the vast Clementinum complex. Legend says the Jesuits had only one book when they started building the library in 1622; when they were done, the collection had swelled to 20,000 volumes. Labels on the bookshelves are original to the library's opening, as are volumes with "whitened backs and red marks," markers left by the Jesuits. Tours run daily.
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