Published  11/12/2001

Not in memory of libraries (old style)


Information technology has been the greatest boon to the library sector. We no longer miss the curious olfactory ambience that was the preserve of the Victorian or Edwardian library, any more than we do the scuffed and annotated volumes or the prohibition of enjoyment (much as J K Rowling’s world might seem to emulate this dusty sanctum). Will Alsop’s Peckham library is not only remembered for substituting delight for decay, but as the site of enjoyment in learning by a murdered Nigerian child, caught on video after leaving, skipping along to a tragic end in that otherwise depressed neighbourhood. In Norwich, by contrast, the library had been burned down, and Michael Hopkins has taken the new direction further along the pleasurable route. He has also succeeded in signifying, in the design ethos of the new building, that this is a public place of enjoyment, and yet not a shopping hub. The building can embrace Pizza Express, local radio studios, information centres, all as a preamble to the enjoyment and acquisition of information. And yes, there are books as well. Eight-year-olds are hooked on fast-reading Harry Potter. There will always be books. Set close to the neo-classical ‘Scandinavian’ town hall Hopkins’ new building is a triumph of space and light against the textured brick exteriors that match that of the town hall. New libraries will increasingly be demanded up and down the country. Alsop first, and now Hopkins’ (whose building might also win the Stirling prize) have pointed the way…

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