Friday, September 7, 2012

OBA GAWD! The loveliest library in Amsterdam.

I almost miss the musty odor of old books. The largest public library in the Netherlands, Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (OBA) may have reading corners, photo displays, and giant toy polar bears, but it lacks the traditional book smell.  With sandy, wood paneling and bright white lighting, the interior design of OBA more closely resembles an eccentric seven-floor Apple store than a library. OBA makes great use of its spacious interior with a clean, unified design sprinkled with carefully chosen quirks.

The library’s architect, Jo Coenen, clearly had light and open space in mind when he designed OBA. Huge windows immerse the library in sunlight and the entrance hall greets visitors with soaring ceilings and eight partially lit-up white columns: some listing useful locations in both English and Dutch. The escalators mirror this design with white-lit undersides bearing the floor number with a short description of the contents of each level. Integrated into the structure of the building, this easy-to-read labeling makes extra signs unnecessary and contributes to a cleaner aesthetic. The bookshelves follow a very similar design idea: geometric white shelving with attached horizontal LED lighting. The bookshelves range from waist height to no more than 6 feet tall making the highest self easily accessible for most adults.

The shelving stays very uniform on all but two floors: the children’s book area on the lowest level and the music and film level on the first floor. Both levels make use of geometric white shelving, but instead of regular rectangles, the square grid of shelves make one circular bookshelf.  On the children’s floor, this design choice makes for a more fun and less formal browsing and reading areas. Giant stuffed toys, toddler-sized tables, colorful foam chairs, and one ten-foot mouse dollhouse complete the whimsical theme of the children’s floor. The music and film floor goes for a more industrial sci-fi look. Using white round shelving, waist level CD racks, silver desk-pods, and crops of florescent bulbs growing out of the pale blue tiling, the music and film floor would look at home on a space ship. However, the white lights and shelves visually tie this floor to the rest. The first floor stands out, but still has enough in common with the other floors that it doesn’t seem out-of-place.

The other floors, while not as whimsical or futuristic, make use of artsy enclaves. The sixth floor houses a photography exhibit, the fifth floor has a wall of folded socks, and the fourth floor has wooden cubbies filled with seating, windows and art pieces.  These artistic touches make wandering the stacks an exciting prospect and keep the library from feeling sterile. Even if you don’t like books, this library will hold your attention. 

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