Yes, they are libraries

The closest one to us is the John P. Robarts Research Library, on the campus of the University of Toronto. It has been given a fitting nickname: the Fort Book.

Toronto University John P. Robarts Research Library. Photo: iStockphoto

The massive tower that rises in front of the main façade looks a lot like a pillar of defence. The use of concrete as the primary material enhances the effect of mass. The building has been used as a stand-in in movies for a prison, a zombie-infested space and a crossing point for extraterrestrials.

A caveat however: You will notice the numerous vertical lines that draw the eyes upward. Since the windows are also vertical, a Wikipedia article refers to the building as if it “transported the scholars anxious to escape the noise and turmoil of the vulgar press into a dream palace enshrining its holy mysteries.”

Continuing with the strange and mysterious, have you read Umberto Eco’s In the Name of the Rose? He wrote a good part of this classic detective story in this library. According to Wikipedia, he used the library as inspiration to describe the secret library in his novel.

Bibliothèque Université San Diego Geisel, Wikipedia Ben Lunsford
Photo University of San Diego Library, Wikipedia cc Attribution-Share alike Ben Lunsford

The Geisel Library in San Diego is another great example. Built on concrete pillars vaguely resembling stakes, the library is a perfect geometrical form, from top to bottom. Did the architects also want to isolate library users in a raised space reigned by the mysterious and strange power of words?

Like the John P. Robarts Research Library, the Geisel Library was built during the Brutalist architecture wave. Place Bonaventure and Expo Habitat 67 in Montreal are Quebec buildings considered to be part of Brutalist architecture.

Don’t’ get the wrong idea. Brutalist has nothing to do with the word brutal. According to Wikipedia, the word is derived from the fresh expression “béton brut” meaning raw concrete.

In vogue from the beginning of the 50s to the mid-70s, Brutalism gave architects, municipal administrations and universities the possibility to build large buildings at a low cost, concrete being a low-cost material. Architects kept their leeway in terms of creation since concrete was seen as a flexible material in addition to symbolizing strength and solidity.

Bibliothèque Université Freie Berlin Philologischel, Wikipedia Torinberl
Photo Freie Berlin philologishe University Library, Wikipedia cc Attribution-Share alike Wikipedia Torinberl

Among more recent libraries, the Philological Library in Berlin stands out through its futuristic aspect. It’s not a spaceship. The architectural team set their sights on the organ to which the thousands of books in the library are destined: the human brain.

The final building that we reserved for you is not really a library in itself, but it is worthy of mention.

Located in Jerusalem, the Shrine of the Book appears to be very and innocuous. But under this white dome hides some of the most precious books in the world: the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Shrine of Book. Photo: iStockphoto

They are parchments and fragments of papyrus initially discovered by a shepherd in a series of eleven caverns between 1947 and 1956. Certain scrolls date to 300 years B.C. An inestimable treasure for biblical science.


Wikipedia English article: John P. Robarts Research Library

Wikipedia English article: Geisel Library

Wikipedia English article: Brutalist Architecture

Wikipedia English article: The Shrine of the Book

Wikipedia French article: Dead Sea Scrolls