by Akash SinghMar 17, 2023
The Pingtung Public Library in the county-administered city of Pingtung in Taiwan is an expanded and re-constitutionalised version of the existing Pingtung County Cultural Affairs Bureau Library that has existed since 1983. Located centrally in the almost 32-acre Millennial Park, the former building was not only impervious to its context, but also had an erratic relationship with the landscape around it. For MAYU Architects, an award-winning, interdisciplinary architectural practice based in Kaohsiung, the process of transformation was therefore two-fold - to introduce a layer of transparency that would open up the relationship between the new library design and the park outside; and to re-orient the landscape around the circulation.
The existing axis, oriented north-south, is rotated 90 degrees to accommodate an entrance lobby on the west. The resultant east-west axis, in addition to shifting the approach from the south to the west, also arbitrates a dialogue between the architecture of the library and the city beyond the park. On the west, a porch area extends out to meet the former plaza, now a lawn.
Covered completely in glass facade and supported by a V-shaped steel structure, the parallelogram-shaped entrance lobby eliminates the formality of boulevards that previously led users to the building through a plaza. This intermediary space, between the interior volume of the library and the forest-like dense thicket of trees fronting it, simultaneously connects and separates the interior and the exterior as well as the urban and the architecture.
A collection of 'activity islands' includes a café - within a sunken triangular seating - and a mezzanine, that creates pockets of varying degrees of privacy - thus charging the lobby with activities that are not merely restricted to circulation. Views from the glass curtain wall are framed by a double grid of V-shaped black steel columns and sash bars, a pattern that is mirrored on the elevation across it.
Once inside, a multi-functional atrium on the south converts three levels of compact book storage from the former library, from which a spiral staircase continues to the floors above. On the north, seating areas and book shelves occupy single height volumes on the ground floor, repeated in plan on successive floors. Meant for casual reading, the seating on this floor is incorporated within steps that also separate the atrium from this area.
Programmatically, across six floors (including a basement), a range of functions like reading rooms, book exhibition spaces, café, general library, children’s library, senior’s atrium, maker space, multimedia collections, sections on Taiwan and local literature, auditorium etc. are accommodated.
On the exterior, the cladding of white aluminium panels and louvers is in synchrony with the white porch and white sash bars of the glazed window behind. Through a comprehensive addition of spaces like the lobby, the atrium and the porch, coupled with a reorganisation of the landscape elements, MAYU Architects have enabled a sense of flexibility, intimacy and exposure that lacked in the old library building.
In his book Reimagining the Library of a Future, Steffen Lehman observes how more and more libraries are being built despite the so-called death of the printed book. The uniqueness of library buildings, he says, lies in the ever-evolving quality of this building typology that he calls “the most public building of all”. In fact, a survey conducted by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), reported a 32.7 per cent increase in physical visits to libraries between 2001-2010. Lehman attributes this fact to the ever-evolving nature of the library, to adapt to the demands of the digital age. This includes creating spaces that are complimentary to those of the traditional library, and that can accommodate opportunists, whether entrepreneurial, recreational or creative.
The library thus goes beyond its role as a mere repository of knowledge, and acts as a community space that allows social engagements. Libraries today offer a range of spaces and services that include musical instruments, incubators, 3D printing, rapid prototyping, makerspace, co-working spaces, cafes, etc. The Pingtung Public Library owes its relevance to this idea to evolution, which ensures that the library is more alive than ever!