Public Library In Heritage Buildings. Types And Examples

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Text of the presentation read in Paris, 2003.

Text of the presentation read in Paris, 2003.

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  • 1. THE PUBLIC LIBRARY IN HERITAGE BUILDINGS: TYPES AND EXAMPLES 1 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS First of all I would like to thank the organisation for allowing me to participate in this forum, and to contribute with some data I think might be of interest, about THE PUBLIC LIBRARY IN HERITAGE BUILDINGS: TYPES AND EXAMPLES 2 My explanation will be based on the experience gained by the Diputació de Barcelona, which is the Library Service of Barcelona Provincial Council. In the province of Barcelona, libraries are a municipal service so the Library Service does not administer the libraries, but rather, facilitates library networking and administers library services for municipal councils. 3 The province of Barcelona has a population of more than 4.6 million distributed throughout some 311 municipalities and the library network within them consists of 164 libraries and 9 mobile libraries. 4 The services we provide with regard to library facilities are fundamentally as follows: We provide advice on the planning and programming of new facilities, o and we do so on the basis of a library model o and a map of needs within the territory. o From there we set the standards for facilities and basic services o which allow us to draw up the functional programme for each specific new facility. We monitor the architectural project. …and the works themselves, we supervise the final facility, and evaluate how the facility then works. 5 Once democracy had been restored in Spain, the cities once again came to value their architectural heritage. Consequently, during the early years (especially after the ’80s), town councils provided many heritage sites to house libraries. Specifically, over the last ten years, we have intervened in 34 historic buildings amongst a total of 101 buildings. About these interventions, you can consult the Library Service publication, La biblioteca pública a la província de Barcelona 1989-1999: deu anys construint biblioteques (The public library in the province of Barcelona, 1989-1999: ten years building libraries) which can be consulted online at <http://www.diba.es/biblioteques/ treballenxarxa/quefem/xarxabiblioteques/cd-rom.asp>. 6 Basically, we have intervened in the following types of buildings: 1
  • 2. THE PUBLIC LIBRARY IN HERITAGE BUILDINGS: TYPES AND EXAMPLES The masia, or Catalan country farmhouse, is a feature of traditional architecture. For centuries it was the hub of agricultural production and rural family life, and there are a lot of examples of them throughout the territory. The one in the picture houses the library in Tiana. In contrast to the masia, the town house, or civil town building, often commands a privileged position in the town and can be distinguished from the other buildings because of the nobility of the materials. Its ornamentation and finishes reflect the economic status of its owners. In the top left photograph we can see the building that houses the library in Canet. It is a Modernista building by Lluís Domènech i Montaner dating from 1887. (There are, however, many different periods and styles for this kind of building). Nineteenth-century and early 20th-century industrial buildings tend to be large, with a regular geometry, and were intended to accommodate large loads. The one in the photograph houses Igualada library. We have also worked on some exceptional buildings such as an old hospital or convent. Because of their shape and dimensions, they are destined to be landmarks within their settings. In the photograph we can see the Nou Barris library in Barcelona which is housed in an old hospital. 7 As we have seen, approximately a third of our interventions have been in heritage buildings. A large number of heritage buildings are contemplated in library planning in our cities, and often the location of libraries has been in places that are less than ideal. We all know the problems of managing a library in an old building, so we´ll probably have to analise deeply each case, with the final goal of taking the right desition when trying to locate a library in a heritage building, (both with regard to the public library and to the historic building). I´ll try to provide some outlines from an architectural point of view to help to take the desition: the value of historical heritage criteria for architectural intervention characteristics of different types of building kind of construction … and so forth. And this will be to complement the librarian criteria which I am sure you know better than I I´ll try to explain what I mean through some examples. 8 When analising a building, there are many factors to consider, as you know. For instance: Can Mariné is a typical example of the Catalan masia. Everything about it reminds us how buildings were made here for centuries: the ridged roof defining the profile of the main facade, the solid irregular walls, the facades with small openings without a clear overall composition and so forth. This masia has special importance in the Horta district of Barcelona. It seems that the main part of the construction dates from the 17th century. The owners during centuries, the Ferrer and Mariner families, played a prominent role in the community. 9 It has been influential in determining the growth of the town : the routes followed by the tracks and roads 2
  • 3. THE PUBLIC LIBRARY IN HERITAGE BUILDINGS: TYPES AND EXAMPLES the public spaces, squares and so forth. So, when analysing this heritage building, we can say that its value lies: in its historical meaning (that is to say, the part played by the building and by its owners in the history of the place) in its significance as part of the urban structure and in its architectural significance (kind of building, architectural value of its constructional elements such as the arches, lintels, balconies and cornices, etc.). 10 The building in the next photograph is the former Tecla Sala textile mill, built in 1872 and located in L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, near Barcelona. The textile industry was of great importance in this town and, for its inhabitants, it was a focal point since it provided employment for many and was the source of prosperity for many families in the area. 11 The factory closed many years ago, and the surrounding area lost importance. With the advent of democracy it became possible to retrieve this building for the community. With this architectural intervention, the surrounding area has acquired renewed importance and the building has once again become a focal point for the community. 12 The structure and constructional elements have been consolidated: constructional pathologies have been diagnosed and repaired: the structure has been strengthened windows have been replaced drainage repaired and so forth. 13 But the architectural intervention has also given a new meaning to the place and the building. Probably the question of meaning is as important, if not more important, than purely technical or constructional questions. There has been a: functional recovery because the building is, once again, a useful one But there has also been a recovery of meaning within its social setting because, once again, it has become a collective focal point. As a first statement I think it can be said that libraries benefit from being located in places which are focal points for the community. 14 The Joan Triadú library in Vic is one of the buildings I described before as being ‘exceptional’. It is a refurbished convent (the 17th-18th-century convent of Carme). It is in a very accessible place, in the city centre near the railway and bus stations. The library, wich is only a part of the building, shares the space with a museum and the district archive, making it a multi-disciplinary cultural centre. 3
  • 4. THE PUBLIC LIBRARY IN HERITAGE BUILDINGS: TYPES AND EXAMPLES 15 On one hand, the installation of new uses, especially if they are intensive, makes it possible to create another urban focus that will contribute to the renewal of the urban fabric. From the other hand, its good location is an advantage for the library because it is physically near the users and, furthermore, the place is a focal point for the community. Taken together, the message that is emphasised is that the library aims to be accessible and close to hand. 16 And finally, the presence of historic elements can enhance the spaces in public libraries: they provide an exceptional quality which I think is very beneficial to libraries. Full advantage should be taken of this synergy between the heritage building and the library in such a way that both benefit from it. 17 The document I mentioned before describes this library in the following way: “In order to cover the former central courtyard to house the library, a tree-shaped structure was created. A large central column supports the two large beams that hold up the roof structure, that is independent of the rest of the perimeter structure. Ther is a glazed strip through which natural light comes in. This structure was created independently from the original structure so as not to alter the old building. 18 19 In relation to this description, we can mention some basic criteria for architectural intervention: Giving a building a new use is a strategy which, far from implying the degradation of the building, lengthens its life and justifies the investment. Interventions should keep the respect for the existing structural system. According to the type of building it is, it will adapt to a greater or lesser extent to functional needs, and consequently it will require a more, or less, strong intervention on its structural system. Vic is a good example because it was possible to intervene without affecting the existing structure at all. Quite often, the way heritage buildings have been created is a complex process. The final result can be a mix of different partial phases and the present moment is just one more moment in this evolution. Consequently, the architectural project must be based on an open interpretation of the building’s evolution: it is convenient that the present intervention should be differentiated from previous ones. (The difference between old and new is very clear in the example of Vic). And finally, the intervention should be reversible so that at any time the building can be returned to its previous state. 20 The square shape of the cloister and its suitable dimensions (some 1,000 square metres) contribute well to the management of the library. There is good visibility, the circulation space is reduced and accessibility increased. The entire space is served with just one counter. 21 Once more, the document I mentioned describes the Can Pedrals library in Granollers as follows: 4
  • 5. THE PUBLIC LIBRARY IN HERITAGE BUILDINGS: TYPES AND EXAMPLES “the library is is housed in a masia built in 1750 next to the mediaeval city walls. It has no architectural value, other than the city’s collective memory. It was refurbished because it formed part of the city’s urban landscape. “(...)In 1991 ownership was transferred to the municipality. The existing masia was the result of numerous former extensions. In the diagram you can see how the architectural project consisted of: preserving the volume of the main building (number 1) preserving the mediaeval wall (number 2) and preserving the main facade of the former annex building (number 3). The photograph shows the main facade after refurbishment. These three elements have been preserved while the rest of the building is a new construction adapted to the new requirements made of it. 22 In these views of the rear of the building we can see the difference between the old wall and the new glass skin. This differentiation between the modern intervention and previous ones is clear. The exterior emergency staircase is located in this area. 23 The main floor plan might help understand the building: The main facade which we can see in the first picture. The mediaeval wall The new building The exterior between the building and the wall where the emergency staircase is located.. The new structure has very few columns distributed at convenient distances. 24 We can see, however, that the solution built in Granollers is very uncompromising since it introduces a new structure, and completely dispenses with the previously existing one. I think that in Can Pedrals the decision to proceed in this way was taken because with the exception of the three elements I have mentioned, the building had no heritage value. This made it possible to have total freedom in replacing it with a building which was, to a large extent, totally new without there being a requirement to preserve the former structure. 25 Thanks to these circumstances it was possible to build a library which has generous interior proportions, and is easy to distribute and administer. (And it has well situated staircases, the lift, the toilets, and so on). If, on the contrary, it had been decided to preserve the former structure, we would have ended up with a library with many walls dividing the interior, thereby forming small rooms which would have been difficult to administer and hard to access. In Granollers it was possible to avoid this risk, but I think the two following examples demonstrate more problematic situations. 26 The building that houses the Torras i Bages library is one of the most notable examples of civil architecture in Vilafranca del Penedès. It is a Gothic building dating from the 14th to the 17th 5
  • 6. THE PUBLIC LIBRARY IN HERITAGE BUILDINGS: TYPES AND EXAMPLES centuries, which stands in the historic centre, near the commercial area. Recent refurbishments have opted for minimal alteration, have been on a small scale and have respected the existing structure to the maximum. 27 The result of all this has been a compartmentalised interior space, where it is difficult to obtain a long view, while the location of the central desk was highly conditioned by the presence of large stone columns. 28 The partition walls that divide the space up are progressively being removed, in order to make the space as fluid as possible within the limits imposed by the structural walls. But in this case it is clear that structural conditions can not fit with the library needs. 29 The location of the stairs is not good, because the vertical circulation in the building does not allow a clear perception of it. The lift is right in the middle of the floor, making the distribution enormously difficult, while the toilets are also inconveniently located. All in all, the management of the library is made difficult, since there is no opportunity to organise it into large, well-lit rooms. It is the lack of an integrated architectural project, and the succession of minor refurbishments that has led to this unsatisfactory situation. It may be that an in-depth study is needed to analyse the heritage aspects and the possibilities for architectural intervention in line with what is required for the proper management of a library. 30 The case of Manresa is in some ways similar to that of Vilafranca del Penedès, but the building in question is much bigger. It is described in the document as follows: "(…) it is known as the Casino library because it is in a building designed by Ignasi Oms in 1906 to house the so-called Societat Anònima Casino de Manresa, a social and cultural association promoted by prosperous local people. The Casino was for members only (…). 31 “The decline of the association in the seventies gave rise to a speculative operation that was on the point of having the building demolished. However, when the people from Manresa became aware that one of their town’s most striking buildings was in danger, a campaign was organised to save it. 32 “As a result of the public concern that had been aroused, in the nineties it was proposed that the Modernista building be converted into a cultural facility, and it was acquired by the town council. The neglect the building had suffered made it necessary to take urgent steps to refurbish it. 33 “Before beginning the works that would make it possible to install the library on the main floor, or first floor of the building, the roofs and guttering had to be repaired, the domes restored, the damp in the base of the walls remedied and the floors themselves rebuilt. 34 “The restoration of the artistic features was particularly laborious, since it was decided to respect the original decoration and features to the maximum. These included stained-glass windows and decorative features on the facade and in the interior.” 6
  • 7. THE PUBLIC LIBRARY IN HERITAGE BUILDINGS: TYPES AND EXAMPLES 35 The main room is generously sized, but the other rooms are very restricted because of the rigid and angular geometry of the building’s ground plan. 36 We can see that the stairs, the small service rooms, the halls and wide passages leave little space for the rest of the library. The architect was up against a rigid geometry, with a strong central axis of symmetry, and the architectural intervention was basically limited to the restoration of original features and improvements to the finishes and services (lighting, air conditioning, electricity, etc.). In this case the strong character of the building’s architecture did not allow any reorganisation of the space to be considered. Here it was not possible to remove existing walls and redistribute the stairs, lifts, corridors and rooms. 37 In contrast with urban buildings such as those we´ve seen, I would like to turn now to the last type of building I mentioned: industrial buildings. This is a detail showing the present state of the Roca Umbert factory, also in Granollers. Planning and building work are now under way to convert it into a library. 38 Industrial buildings are usually larger structures, with a regular and repetitive geometry, large openings, and abundant capacity to support heavy loads. This is a very important point when it comes to satisfying the stringent requirements for structures to be used for public facilities. 39 The interiors of such buildings are spacious and well lit: they allow freedom for the distribution. A large rectangular room such as the one in this picture offers few architectural restrictions and allows for greater freedom when it comes to planning the distribution. 40 In this photograph we can see how the roof is supported by timber trusses, a type of structure that allows walls or columns to be widely separated. Old structural features such as this can be used as a feature of the architectural project, to lend character to the space occupied by the library. 41 Like in this one, Vapor Badia library in Sabadell. This building has many features in common with the one we´ve just seen. It was opened as a library last November, after a major refurbishment. 42 There is also a similarity between the external appearance of the Roca Umbert factory and the Vapor Badia: they are both two-storey buildings, with a similar arrangement of windows that allows good lighting. 43 The Vapor Badia woollen mill was built in 1867. It was driven by a large steam engine, exceptionally powerful for its time, and it is a typical example of this type of building, which proliferated in towns and cities in Barcelona’s industrial periphery. 44 After it had lain abandoned for some years, in 1997 the Sabadell city council acquired the building and the site, in order to use it for a central library. 7
  • 8. THE PUBLIC LIBRARY IN HERITAGE BUILDINGS: TYPES AND EXAMPLES 45 As you can see in these photographs, the slender metal columns are practically unnoticeable, and there is a spatial continuity. 46 I think is a good thing since it allows flexibility in the organisation of the collection, simplifying the sort of redistribution that, in all probability, will become necessary as the years go by. 47 This floor plan is substantially different from the one in Manresa: I would like to stress that in buildings of this type the architect has a much easier job when it comes to distributing the spaces, and in the end the management of the library facility will be improved. In short, this is a type of building that calls for a relatively non-aggressive intervention on its structural system, normally one that is reversible. 48 Finally, I would like to comment a library wich has been perhaps the most striking building to be converted into a library in the city of Barcelona in recent years: the Ignasi Iglesias – Can Fabra library. The library is the central feature of the Can Fabra cultural centre, in the Sant Andreu district. It was opened last september. 49 The cultural centre is the new use resulting from the local redevelopment that equipped a public square with a fountain, garden and underground car-park, and which can be understood in terms of the creation of new centralities in the outskirts of the metropolitan city. Operations of this type allow the districts to recover and, indeed, re-affirm their personality, and afford a notable improvement in their public spaces. 50 Furthermore, the restoration of the Can Fabra building implied the recovery of an important part of the history of Sant Andreu and of its industrial past. 51 In 1839 the sewing thread manufacturers Ferran Puig i Gibert were already amongst the most important in Europe, and in 1884 the company was consolidated as Filatures Fabra. In 1903 this company merged with the British company J & P Coats: it became known as “Fabra i Coats”, and was practically the unique supplier of sewing thread in Spain. The company grew and absorbed all the thread-makers in Sant Andreu. In 1915 it had 1,500 workers. The central building, with a surface are of 6,000 square metres, was built in the late 19th century. Some years after the building had ceased to be used for its original purpose, the Barcelona city council bought the whole site, demolished the auxiliary buildings and undertook the restoration of the central building, respecting the main features of the original factory (facades, large windows and the structure of columns). 52 The new library has some 3,000 square metres of floor-space distributed over three storeys, and is organised around a central hall, three storeys high, similar to the spaces in the Vapor Badia building in Sabadell, we mentioned before. 8
  • 9. THE PUBLIC LIBRARY IN HERITAGE BUILDINGS: TYPES AND EXAMPLES 53 This hall is a space for vertical communication, since it contains the main staircase, but its large size and the fact that it is not separated from the rest of the floors with glazing leads to acoustic problems. 54 I will not go into details, but I just want to say to say that these internal spaces, and their possibilities, are similar to those of the Sabadell library we described earlier. 55 But, still, we found a problem with such large spaces, and that is the difficulty of giving each section its own character and differentiating the various areas. In such cases there needs to be a very strong, well-thought-out plan for the furnishings and signage, since the architecture itself has created very isotropic and undefined spaces. 56 Here you can see the light coming in through the large windows in the different areas. 57 And here the brightness of the informal area of the entrance hall. 58 This plan is just to see how similar it is to the Vapor Badia library. 59 So, I think that in terms of the type of building concerned we can come to some very general conclusions that might be helpful. (Still, every individual case calls for a specific analysis, which might imply a solution that would be very different from that of another case, apparently similar).. 60 In the case of large isolated houses and urban civil buildings, the advantages come from the fact that they are organised as a group of contiguous rooms: it is easier to differentiate the different areas and there is better acoustic control. But the disadvantatges are also the result of the fact they are organised into rooms: little flexibility for distribution poor user accessibility to the documents often a lack of natural light and, finally, difficulties for management, 61 In the case of industrial buildings, the advantages we obtain from the undifferentiated space are: greater flexibility of distribution good accessibility for the documents better natural lighting in many cases 9
  • 10. THE PUBLIC LIBRARY IN HERITAGE BUILDINGS: TYPES AND EXAMPLES and, finally, the easier management (because there is good visibility and circulation can be organised in a clear way). On the other hand difficulties might arise, as we have seen, in differentiating the spaces by means only of the furnishing and signage, and in acoustic control. Finally, I believe that no single conclusion can be reached in the case of exceptional buildings; everything depends on the particular case in point. 62 In conclusion, then, while on the one hand a heritage building might offer clear advantages as a public library (good location and accessibility, the fact that it is well known to the whole community, that it is a striking building, etc.) it must never be forgotten that on the other hand such a building may severely restrict library management, according to the type of building concerned and the type of intervention required. We sometimes hear it asked what the total surface of a heritage building is (to see whether the library we want will fit into it). But before deciding to use it as a library a detailed study of the building is needed, one that goes much further than merely checking how much usable space there is in it. The criteria employed in such a study must include: a historical and heritage analysis the architectural possibilities and the functional requirements of proper library management. Such a report will let us be better-informed about the decisions we are taking and their consequences for the library facility. Well, I do hope I have been able to convey some criteria that might be useful in this regard, so that between us all we can make a success of the library facilities in the societies of which they form part. Thank you. 10