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Biblioteca España by Giancarlo Mazzanti & Arquitectos

Oriel Prizeman examines six recent libraries in the first of a new quarterly series on typology

Hamlet was perhaps not imagining his native Denmark but rather a public library in Medellín, Colombia, built in 2009, when he muttered: ‘I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space’. Giancarlo Mazzanti has made a deliberate attempt visually to transport the library users away from their impoverished surroundings.

Poised like giant boulders above the basin of Medellín, the library has the iconic presence of a religious statue, giving visual order over a jumbled townscape beneath it. Unlike the other more formally inventive buildings here, however, it does not serve nor is it funded by a wealthy context.

Its dark, chiselled, brown stone-clad capes punctuated with clusters of small windows shroud simply stacked floorplates internally. The space between the two provides the volume for heat and light to circulate. While the construction of building has been criticised for its leaking roof, it has also been widely praised for its intelligent provision of learning space and of an outdoor balcony over the city.

With significant pressures on resources it seems unfair to condemn the building for its workmanship when, by contrast, its positive message is so overwhelming. The high quality of the design proposal is not extravagant in technical terms compared with other buildings here and it is grim to conclude that only the wealthiest societies can support ambitious design.

Medellín, Colombia 2008,1068m² US$4 million (£2.5 million)

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