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Mexico’s Vasconcelos Library: A Unique Building Concept

Mexico’s Vasconcelos Library: A Unique Building Concept

Wednesday, July 26, 2017 | | Editorials

“ It’s an interesting building from the inside. The books hang from a ceiling structure in open cages. Visitors walk along bridges, catwalks, ramps, and stairways, all within a giant 70-foot shell. Inside, it’s clean and orderly, a refuge from the chaos outside.”

(Image: Mark English Architects)


“It’s an interesting building on the inside,” said Mark English, speaking of the Biblioteca Vasconcelos, a library designed by architect Alberto Kalach. “A different way of arranging books.”

First entry. Long lines of sight draw the visitor in and up. Image: Mark English Architects

My first impression from the photos was of Ridley Scott’s movie “Blade Runner” – futuristic, albeit less dystopian. What recalled the movie was a sense of open space, fully utilized rather than empty: industrially efficient, perfect for those hovercraft chase scenes.

“The books hang from a ceiling structure in open cages. Visitors walk along bridges, catwalks, ramps, and stairways, all within a giant 70-foot shell. The building is a single heavy container with lightweight tensile suspension within. Rather than a series of floor plates, the interior is one big continuum.”

Looking up, the library almost looks like an entire suspended city – a city of books. Image: Mark English Architects

Another building it recalled for me was Lina Bo Bardi’s MASP  building in Brazil: an art museum with a steel and glass shell, with the art suspended and long lines of sight from end to end within. Mark didn’t quite agree – he’s the one who’s actually been to both places – so instead we explored what he felt about the experience itself.

“Inside this library, you feel that you can move. You’re experiencing space the entire time. You can see through the floor, see where you are in the building.”

Up a few floors. Like the catwalks, the stair suspension is fully exposed. Image: Mark English Architects

“Unlike MASP, which celebrates exterior views, this building is defensive. It’s located in a rugged, working-class neighborhood and doesn’t open to views or the street except in a few small areas. It’s more like a ship. Inside there’s more drama. And yet, it’s clean and orderly, a refuge from the chaos outside.”

A refuge? “People who live in tiny apartments where it’s noisy and chaotic can home here and experience volume and quiet,” Mark replied.

Translucent bridge, looking up to the ceiling above. Image: Mark English Architects

“I wouldn’t compare it to the Brazil MASP building so much as Will Bruder’s Burton Barr library in Phoenix, even though that one is more traditional,” Mark added. Both use practical devices to respond to the environment without an over-reliance on mechanical systems.”

Brisé soleil louvers shield the interior from solar heat gain. The reading room is one of the few spots with a street view. Image: Mark English Architects

“One thing about this building is it has no ducts, no giant mechanical chases. It didn’t need air conditioning because it’s vented at the top and bottom.” Was it hot in there? I wondered. “Mexico City is one and a half miles up from sea level,” said Mark.

Instead, the architect employed low-tech devices such as brisé soleil or “sun breakers”, which Mark also noted in Sao Paulo. Architects such as Louis Kahn and le Corbusier also used natural shading for climate control.

Was there anything you didn’t like about this building? “The main facade is a parking garage entrance. It’s an uninspiring presence. The exterior, and how to get inside, are not so apparent. However a lot of this is site planning constraints. It’s a long, narrow building and the architect has to work with what is there already.”

Image Gallery

Links and References

  1. General information about the building and architectural credits from Archdaily
  2. Architect Alberto Kalach website
  3. Architect Alberto Kalach contact page
  4. Burton Barr Library description, as comparison with Vasconcelos Library (Phoenix, AZ)
  5. Photos and plans for Vasconcelos Library

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