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The secret life of libraries

Wisdom Builds Her House: The Architecture and History of Libraries, Architekturmuseum, Munich

Curator Winfried Nerdinger claims that more libraries have been built in the last 20 years than ever before and that contrary to expectations of the 1960s, navigation of digital versus physical literature has not halted this progress. Just now, such a positive message rings more brightly close to Munich’s Glockenspiel than it might do amid the death knell of public libraries audible in Britain. Nevertheless, globally, a slideshow demonstrates that the idea of the library, as a physical embodiment of knowledge, is very much alive.

Four rooms narrate the purpose of libraries from dry to sweet. An impressive variety of texts from the library of Werner Oechslin is followed by plans and photographs interspersed with CAD/CAM models of libraries. Anecdotal vitrines hint at the wider role of libraries in culture. The rational progression through configurations for the type leads to responses from Le Corbusier to Toyo Ito: how might the sum of all knowledge be contained in buildings?

Wisdom Builds Her House: The Architecture and History of Libraries, Architekturmuseum, Munich

A wall of Erik Desmazières’ cartoons depicting Jorge Luis Borges’ impossible ‘The Library of Babel’ screens a final room in which a reel of real library activity runs. Collated from the archive of Ingo Tornow, excerpts from films depict encounters of murder, seduction, farce and fulfilment in libraries, including Wim Wenders’ 1987 flight through Hans Scharoun’s State Library in Wings of Desire where, against a collage of sound, smiles into the camera are calmly passed by for a long view across the horizon of the reading room below.

The story is a huge one and not completed here but the modest exhibition provides a stimulating framework from which to become more curious about our ambition to own, contain and wander around knowledge. By including the film montage, it mitigates the potential seriousness of the subject and gently acknowledges our fascination with rule-bending in such environments.

Wisdom Builds Her House: The Architecture and History of Libraries

Where: Architekturmuseum, Munich

When: Until 16 October

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