Green Spaces: 6 Structures Repurposed as Libraries

by Ashley Mancill
previously published 10/25/13 & 10/30/14

Green Spaces: 6 Structures Repurposed as Libraries

ashleymancillI have a thing for repurposed buildings. One of my favorites is a pizza place in Pensacola that is located in the basement of an old hospital, supposedly where the morgue used to be. Eeriness aside, it actually has a great atmosphere and serves some really good food.

Repurposing old, unused buildings is nothing new. McAllen Public Library in McAllen, Texas, now occupies a 124,000-foot space that Wal-Mart left behind when it moved to a new location. A number of libraries have adapted spaces that have been vacated or neglected, storefronts and retail stores being the most popular. Renovating existing space is not only cost efficient but also promotes sustainability by using existing resources (and thereby reducing environmental consumption) to return the structure to a state of functionality. In some instances, structures are likely to be accessible or familiar to those who live in the community, and converting them into an operable facility stands to attract residents and generate activity. Finally, adaptive reuse projects help to create more vibrant communities. Old, derelict structures that are transformed into public libraries offer individuals a space in which to gather and interact and help improve the quality of life of those residing in the community.

The trend of repurposing unused space as libraries is not limited to the U.S. Following is a collection of libraries from around the world that have adapted spaces and structures to serve their communities.

The Elena Garro Cultural Center was once an unoccupied, heritage-listed house in Coyoacán, Mexico, and was transformed into a modern library and cultural center in 2012. Architects left the home intact, surrounding it with a concrete and glass framing structure to create “an open library space.” The trees growing in front of the house were also included in the design and continue to grow inside while plants and greenery were added to the outside. Rooms were converted into reading spaces and meeting rooms, and an addition at the back of the property houses an auditorium, as well as extra storage space. Thanks to the renovation project, the house is once again a part of the neighborhood that grew around it, a place where members of the community can gather, learn, and enrich their lives.

Luckenwalde’s train station reportedly saw plenty of activity between the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries as textile workers commuted to and from the nearby city of Berlin. Changes in industry and advances in transportation undoubtedly led to the station’s closure, but it nevertheless remained iconic of the city’s past. Thanks to funding from the EU’s URBAN program and the talents of architects Ralf Fleckenstein, Katharina Feldhusen, and Martina Wronna, the station was remodeled into Bibliothek Luckenwalde, complete with chic furniture, spacious reading rooms, a café, and a futuristic-looking annex that serves as the children’s area. Plated in gold shingles, the annex reflects modernity and also harkens back to the station’s past.

Buildings are not the only structures that have been repurposed as libraries. A cable car dubbed Bondinho da Leitura in Curitiba, Brazil, now operates as an open library, fulfilling the entertainment needs of city residents. The car became stationary in the early 1970s and was used as a childcare center for a little over a decade before it was turned into an information booth. The booth only operated for a few years, but the car remained in the city’s center as a landmark. In 2010, the Cultural Foundation of Curitiba converted it into a book-lending station as part of the foundation’s Curitiba Reads program. Residents need only present an id and address to borrow any of the Bondinho da Leitura’s 2,500 titles. The Foundation’s use of the historic car as a means to promote literacy is clever, and is also a brilliant way of linking Curitiba’s past with its present.

The Amin Library in Batu, Indonesia, may not be repurposed from an iconic structure in the village, but its innovative design does attempt to merge the village’s rural past with an urban future. Designed by Dpavilion Architects, the library is made up of eight old shipping containers and holds over 6,000 books. According to Designboom, each of the brightly colored containers functions as a particular section of the library. The green serves as the main lobby, and the yellow forms the women’s reading room. Popular materials are housed in the blue containers while the books on technology and science can be found in the red, which extend over an open terrace. Like most libraries, Amin Library aims to enrich the lives of those it serves, no matter their gender, socio-economic status, or education level.

A market in Min Buri, a subdistrict of Bangkok, operated for a hundred years before a fire in the late 1990s prompted vendors to move to the other side of the canal. The site stood empty for nearly a decade before TYIN, a nonprofit Norwegian architecture firm began working with CASE Studio Architects to recruit locals and repurpose the abandoned market place into a library. One side of the building is designated for books while the other serves as a reading room. A loft was added to create another private reading area. Plants were potted in the market’s backyard area, and a pergola was also added to protect readers from the sun’s heat. Durable, secondhand construction materials were purchased locally and were used to replace the decaying roof and walls. TYIN believes that involving locals created a personal attachment to the project that will allow the Old Market Library to continue to function for many years.

Although not actually a library, the sheer magnificence of El Ateneo in Buenos Aires makes it an adapted space worth mentioning. The bookstore inhabits an old theatre building that was built in 1919 by Max Glucksman. The Grand Splendid, as it was called, hosted an array of performances and eventually became a movie house. It was scheduled to be demolished in 2000 but was leased to Grupo Ilsha, owner of the El Ateneo chain. General admission seats were removed in order to install bookshelves, but many of the architectural details were retained. Customers can sit and read in the box seats and enjoy a coffee from the café where the stage once sat. Although no longer a performance venue, The Grand Splendid is still providing entertainment to residents and tourists alike.

The future of libraries and the physical space that they occupy is an ongoing discussion among library professionals. Advances in technology and digitization of information prompts some to question the relevancy of the public library as a community space – specifically whether or not it will continue to serve the needs of those in the community. Whether or not public libraries will become tech hubs or museums, those who work in them understand the needs of the public and the role libraries play in connecting users with information. It’s more likely then that library space will be adapted and repurposed as needed, and libraries will continue to offer services that educate, inform, and entertain those that they serve.