Gorgeous or homely, libraries are temples of learning and fun
Public libraries are like babies: There aren’t any ugly ones. In a way, then, Flavorwire’s round-up of the “The Most Beautiful Libraries in the US” is as wrong as a baby beauty pageant. On the other hand, I’ll concede, it’s always better to have a handsome building than otherwise, if given the choice.
My first library was a storefront on Tazewell Street in the small Appalachian town of Wytheville, Virginia. It was on the way home from the elementary school, and I stopped in almost every day to wander the stacks, take in the heady aroma of book must and chat with the librarian, a tiny smiling woman who encouraged me to read books beyond my age group.
To me, no library can ever be more beautiful than that homely little place where my incipient love of reading was flamed into a full-fledged romance with books. I wish I could call the librarian’s name to mind so I can give her the credit she deserves. I’m sure every reader in the country has a similar origin story.
Still, we should opt for great architecture whenever possible, just as we choose great books. After all, a book lives inside of us, but we live wthin the visual atmosphere established by the buildings that surround us. Buildings influence mood, whether we are aware of it or not.
The libraries celebrated by Flavorwire are a gorgeous lot — for the most part.
At the risk of seeming an architectural luddite, stuck in the middle of the last century, I admit to a lack of love for the ultra-contemporary architecture of today. You know what I mean — the swoopy, buulging or angular kind of whimsy in which form follows imagination, with a nary a thought to function.
An example from the Flavorwire list: Philadelphia’s Parkway Central Library, which looks like it has radioactive tumor bulging out one side.
Other buildings on the list range from the neo-classical majesty of the New York Public Library, with its eternally vigilant lions to the Berkeley Public Library, which looks like an unusually sleek bank building, to the Central Library of the Atlanta-Fulton County system, which resembles nothing so much as a Borg cube space ship.
What I don’t understand is how the editors could have left out the Broward County Main Library in Fort Lauderdale, a Modern classic designed by Robert Gatje and constructed 1980-84. Inside and out, it’s a work of art yet effortlessly functional, too.
Here, if you don’t believe me, have a look:
Share your story of library love, if you please, and if you have a beautiful library in your hometown, explain why it should be on the Flavorwire list.