People love their libraries. And when their governments put money toward them, they even love to visit them. A 2012 report by the Institute of Museum and Library Services found that when investment in libraries drops, as it has in the US since 2009, usage typically falls with it. But the inverse was also true; the more public funds libraries receive, the more people tend to use them.
Perhaps that’s because a good library is more than a repository for books—it’s a community resource. It may also explain the recent spate of high-design libraries (and bookstores) popping up around the globe. Many of them function not just as singular temples to the written word, but community centers, auditoria, concert halls, and public gardens. All of them are works of art in themselves. Here are 10 most beautiful libraries.
01 Dokk1 Library, Schmidt Hammer Lassen
The Dokk1 library recently won the prize for best public library of 2016, and it’s easy to see why. The 323,000 square-foot library, the largest in Scandinavia, is situated next to the river in Aarhus, Denmark. The building is made from a stack of polygons, giving it a hard, geometric facade. While inside, the space is airy, with windows that overlook the city’s harbor. An unexpected, artistic bonus: The bell that hangs above the central staircase is connected to the local hospital—it rings every time a child is born.
02 Lawrence Public Library, by Gould Evans
Lawrence’s new library has the bones of its old. Originally built in 1972, architects at Gould Evans recently gutted the library and renovated it to be more modern and tech-forward. While observing visitors, the architects realized people naturally gathered in the locations with the most natural lighting. This led to them to create reading room with floor-to-ceiling windows.
03 Yangzhou Zhongshuge, by X+Living
Walking into the Yangzhou Zhangshuge bookstore in Zhen Yuan, China is like walking through a river filled with books. The architects say that’s intentional; the building is supposed to evoke the feeling of water, a nod to its riverside location. Hard and paperback tomes line the curved, backlit shelves, which reflect onto the dark mirrored floor, creating a tunnel effect. It’s just the right amount of trippy.
04 Beyazit Library, by Tabanlioglu Architects
The Beyazit State Library in Istanbul isn’t a new building. In fact, it was originally built in 1506, and served as a soup kitchen and inn before it became the state library in the late 19th century. Turkish architecture studio Tabanlioglu Architects recently renovated the space, preserving its bones while adding minimalist modern touches, like tinted glass boxes that hold rare manuscripts. It’s a stunning mix of old and new.
05 Vennesla Library, by Helen & Hard Architects
Norway’s Vennesla library looks like a portal to outer space. A series of 27 arching ribs hugs the ceiling, creating a skeleton for the building. Each rib has an integrated light that lends the cream interior and ethereal glow, while the base of the beam flows into a reading nook. Each rib contains sound absorbing materials to ensure the space is extra quiet.
06 Bodø Library, by DRDH
The new Bodø Public Library in Norway is also a cultural center, featuring a three-auditorium concert hall in addition to its 68,000-square feet of dedicated reading space. The white concrete building sits on the plot of a former bus station, and a row of floor-to-ceiling windows look out onto the city’s harbor.
07 Chicago Public Library, by SOM
Chicago’s new Chinatown library branch has no sharp edges. The pebble-shaped building is wrapped in glass and marked by solar-shading fins that are meant to reduce heat and glare. The library’s curvy, three-sided shape is built around feng shui principles and designed to align with the avenues outside the building. Inside, the two-story structure is centered around a light-filled atrium.
08 Birmingham Library, by Mecanoo
From the outside, the Birmingham library in England looks like a brutalist structure wrapped in metal lace. But the building’s vast interior—it’s 312,000 square feet—is filled with bright primary colors and clean lines. The building is home to more than 400,000 books housed on multiple floors, each of which features a cantilevered balcony overlooking a “book rotunda.”
09 Halifax Library, by Schmidt Hammer Lassen
Halifax’s flagship library (there are 13 others) is 156,000-square feet of imposingly piled glass. Situated in the city’s downtown, the building’s four glass boxes stack, twist, and cantilever to create a stunning building block effect. On top of the building is a rooftop garden for enjoying warm Nova Scotia summers. Inside, the library’s reading room converts to a concert hall.
10 Conarte Library, by Anagrama
Mexican design studio Anagrama designed a cozy reading nook inside this Monterrey bookstore to encourage visitors to linger and read. The sea foam blue walls shine through a latticed wood bookshelf that turns the space into a brightly colored cocoon. Stairs cut through the middle of the dome, while padded seats on either side afford comfortable reading spots. It’s visually striking, and clever, use of space.