10 Amazingly Modern University Libraries

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Libraries have been described as “the heart of the university;” and, perhaps in view of this, higher education institutions worldwide have realized the need to contemporize these vital spaces, investing in new technologies and welcoming modern design elements. Leading architects and designers have been brought in to create university libraries that rightly stand as shining beacons of progressive learning, far more than just a collection of books. Read on to find out about 10 amazingly modern university library buildings from around the world.

10. University of California Geisel Library – San Diego, USA

10. University of California Geisel Library – San Diego, USA

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In 2011, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) celebrated the 40th anniversary of its famous library. The distinctive Geisel Library was rechristened in 1995 as a mark of respect for UCSD donors Ted and Audrey Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss and his widow. The tower’s unique architecture has even spawned an “Urban Legends” section on the library’s official website, which includes speculation that it has appeared in the Star Trek series.

The original building was conceived by architect William Pereira in the late 1960s and opened in 1970, and it really is a striking example of brutalist design – and contemporary looking beyond its years. It even features on the UCSD logo.

While the building’s idiosyncratic design has seen it described as “a beacon” and compared to a spaceship, the interior was intended to bring students as near as possible to the books. Still, some must have been sad to hear the university confirm that the library has not, in fact, featured in any Star Trek installment.

9. Macquarie University Library – Sydney, Australia

9. Macquarie University Library – Sydney, Australia

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Filled with more than 1.8 million electronic and print items, the stylish Macquarie University Library is the biggest center of its kind in northern Sydney. Opened in August 2011, the awesome structure was the result of a design concept brief that told companies to “forget everything you think you know about academic libraries.”

Award-winning Australian architectural firm Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp were commissioned with a concept inspired by the campus’ stunning landscape – particularly its forest of eucalypts – and which also took into consideration sustainability and light.

Another important aspect of the concept is the way it was able to favor open floor space over book storage, thanks to the library’s automated retrieval system – a first in Australia. Given that the library receives 5,500 visits a day and has a projected minimum lifespan of four decades, the design also had to be robust and durable.

8. University of Aberdeen Library – Aberdeen, Scotland

8. University of Aberdeen Library – Aberdeen, Scotland

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A 2012 article in The Guardian described the new Aberdeen University Library as “rising like a perfectly geometric glass monolith from a clutter of university structures.” Opened in 2011, it was the first major building project in Aberdeen for some 25 years, and it soars above the surrounding skyline.

The €40 million ($51 million) library was designed by Danish architectural firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen, who planned the building as a cube that recalls the light and ice of the area. Its striking and futuristic design encloses an asymmetrical atrium with sweeping curves that rise diagonally up through all seven floors.

“The University of Aberdeen’s new library will be a meeting place and a cultural center for the students of the University and the Aberdeen community,” remarked founding Schmidt Hammer Lassen partner Morten Schmidt. He went on to add, “The facade of the building will shimmer during the day and glow softly at night, creating a luminous landmark – a beacon – for the whole city of Aberdeen.”

7. Delft University of Technology Library – Delft, The Netherlands

7. Delft University of Technology Library – Delft, The Netherlands

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Completed in 1997, the Delft University of Technology Library was designed by local architectural firm Mecanoo, and the following year, the building’s distinctive design won in the “Buildings of Steel and Hybrid Constructions” category of the Dutch National Steel Prize. 

Natural insulation is provided by the grass-covered roof, which is sloped so that people can walk to the top of the building – and which, from above, gives the impression that the structure has risen out of the ground, pushing the turf upwards.

A steel cone also emerges from the roof, and its skylight serves as the core source of natural illumination for the building, ensuring the library is bright enough to accommodate its one thousand study spaces. The structure’s large windows and columns provide further lighting, adding to the impressive design.

6. Free University of Berlin Philological Library – Berlin, Germany

6. Free University of Berlin Philological Library – Berlin, Germany

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Opened in 2005, the Free University of Berlin’s Philological Library was designed by celebrated British architect Norman Foster. It brings together six of the university’s original courtyards and spans four floors within a naturally-ventilated, egg-like enclosure that was built using aluminum, glazed panels and a steel frame.

Inside, a clear “inner membrane” distils daylight and helps to promote a study-friendly environment. With book stacks centrally situated on each level and reading spaces spread out around the edges, the building’s snaking layout produces a sequence of well-lit areas in which students can work.

This unique library houses 700,000 volumes, and its somewhat cranial likeness has seen it become nicknamed “The Berlin Brain.”

5. Brandenburg University of Technology ICMC – Brandenburg, Germany

5. Brandenburg University of Technology ICMC – Brandenburg, Germany

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Brandenburg University of Technology’s Informations, Kommunikations und Medienzentrum (IKMZ) – or Information, Communication and Media Center (ICMC) – opened in 2004. The building was designed by world-famous Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, well known for their work on contemporary international structures like London’s Tate Modern and the Allianz Arena in Munich.

Swathed in repeated white images and text, the IKMZ’s glazed glass exterior gives the building a striking appearance, but those expecting the monochromatic pattern to be maintained inside may be surprised to find an eye-catching 20-foot-wide, pink-and-green staircase.

The shape of the building has been compared to an amoeba, and despite its seemingly random façade, the design is the result of a well planned and tested arrangement based around movement.

4. University of Warsaw Library – Warsaw, Poland

4. University of Warsaw Library – Warsaw, Poland

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Roman philosopher Cicero once said, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” And when Poland’s Warsaw University redeveloped its library in the 1990s, architects Marek Budzyński and Zbigniew Badowski seemed to agree.

Opened in December 1999, the new design – which was even blessed by Pope John Paul II – marries nature and culture. Its green exterior features huge tablets that pay homage to the cultural domain with mathematical formulas, musical notation, and classical texts written in different scripts – including Old Polish, Hebrew and Classical Greek.

To top it off, there’s a one-hectare, two-level botanical garden on the roof of the building that was conceived by landscape architect Irena Bajerska. Also featuring a stream and water cascade, it’s one of Europe’s biggest roof gardens and is open to the public.

3. University of Chicago Joe & Rika Mansueto Library – Chicago, USA

3. University of Chicago Joe & Rika Mansueto Library – Chicago, USA

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Opened in 2011, the Joe & Rika Mansueto Library was named after Chicago investment research firm Morningstar, Inc.’s founder Joe Mansueto and his wife Rika, who donated $25 million to the project.

Designed by noted German-American architect Helmut Jahn, the library seats up to 180 students under a gleaming glass dome that was built with a gently angled axis as a nod to the Henry Moore monument, which is close by. The glass blocks 73 percent of incoming solar heat but lets in 50 percent of the visible light, enabling students to work in natural sunlight without getting too hot.

With an aim towards “the library of the future,” the intention here was to create an agreeable environment that encouraged serious learning. And below the 8,000-square-foot Grand Reading Room, an advanced book retrieval system allows a phenomenal amount of texts to be stored in a seventh of the space that would be occupied by regular library shelving.

2. Galway-Mayo Institute Of Technology Library – Galway, Ireland

2. Galway-Mayo Institute Of Technology Library – Galway, Ireland

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The brief for the new Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology library in Galway, western Ireland was exacting, with the building needing to accommodate 600 students, plus book storage and study areas, as well as incorporating cutting-edge IT facilities.

Notwithstanding, Irish firm de Blacam & Meagher rose to the challenge to create a stunning and award-winning structure with a total volume of 1.06 million cubic feet (30,000 cubic meters). In the development, they used dynamic thermal modeling – at the time a young and developing technology in Ireland – to produce the building’s sophisticated facade.

The striking exterior provides shade from the southerly sun but also allows natural light entering the glazed east side of the building to bathe the library’s reading spaces. The design also uses natural ventilation, which is more cost-effective than mechanical cooling, offering both minimal energy consumption and increased comfort for students and staff.

1. Tama Art University Library – Tokyo, Japan

1. Tama Art University Library – Tokyo, Japan

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Completed in 2007, the Tama Art University Library in Tokyo was designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito. A key aspect of the concept was creating an open space for the entire university faculty – and the result is a stunning construction, both inside and out.

The ground level gallery passage allows those walking across the campus to enter, even if they are not heading to the library itself. Meanwhile, large arches constructed from concrete-covered steel plates have been configured to follow a series of curved lines. Intersecting at various points, they give the impression that the sloped floor and picturesque front garden carry on right into the building interior.

The arches also gently separate the library spaces and help to facilitate the building’s spatial continuity, as well as letting in natural light. In 2013, Ito was awarded the esteemed Pritzker Architecture Prize.

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