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Binary mode: SHAU’s Microlibrary in Bandung

AR_EA 2016 Finalist: A bid to raise literacy rates in Indonesia, a library fashioned out of ice-cream buckets shelters a more informal community space 

Two thousand buckets of ice cream might sound more like the beginnings of a post-relationship night on the sofa than an architectural solution – but then the best architectural solutions are often those that force the everyday out of its comfort zone. ‘We get our ideas by sitting around, walking, relaxing, showering, cooking …’ say the architects at SHAU, a studio founded by Daliana Suryawinata, Florian Heinzelmann and Tobias Hofmann.

The Microlibrary in Bandung, the capital of Indonesia’s West Java province and the site of the practice’s main office, is the first built example of what SHAU envisions as a series of libraries across the country, attempting to tackle high illiteracy rates not simply through the provision of books, but the creation of places that elevate the very act of reading.

Microlibrary site plan by SHAU

Microlibrary site plan by SHAU

Microlibrary by SHAU

Microlibrary by SHAU

Here it is elevated quite literally, a concrete and steel structure floating above what was an existing square for community gatherings and sports, itself reworked into a stage with fresh concrete and a short wide stair (doubling as seating) that merges with the steps up to the library. The 2,000 ice-cream buckets, punched out and cut by local craftsmen and bolted together between steel ribs into a dynamic wall, are tilted down to channel rainwater, although glass doors behind them can be closed in the event of particularly ferocious weather.

Both of these layers envelop a small, flexible reading space into which the buckets cast a scattered light. Their positioning, showing either an open top or closed bottom, was interpreted by SHAU as binary – and used to embed the advice ‘buku adalah jendela dunia’ (‘books are the windows to the world’) along the facade, a message from Bandung’s Mayor Ridwan Kamil. It is a gesture few will ever actually read, but one that adds a certain something to the story of the project.

Microlibrary plan and section by SHAU

Microlibrary plan and section by SHAU

Microlibrary plan and section by SHAU

Indonesia, and in particular Bandung, is a place of great disparity: ‘kampungs [a term for poorer villages located in cities] are flanked by huge high-end shopping malls’, say the architects, ‘there are a lot of creative people trying to start their own little businesses … but seeing great examples of architecture in publications does not tell you anything about the process, which is always portrayed as though everything went smoothly’.

Working in a context where architecture still packs more of a social punch, SHAU is healthily sceptical of architecture’s public relations machine: ‘It is up to neither them nor us who will be remembered … there is so much done by so many talented people, being famous becomes obsolete. Imagine a city full of outstanding architecture – nothing would be outstanding any more.’

Microlibrary

Architect: SHAU
Project team: Florian Heinzelmann, Daliana Suryawinata, Yogi Ferdinand, with Rizki Supratman, Roland Tejo Prayitno, Aditya Kusuma, Octavia Tunggal, Timmy Haryanto, Telesilla Bristogianni, Margaret Jo
Photographs: Sandy Pirouzi/Sanrok Studio