Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Arabian Library: Postmodern Manifesto

While spending an entire month in Scottsdale, I went to Target almost every single day, got an Arizona drivers license (it doesn't expire until I'm sixty five!Too bad I probably won't be getting carded by then, cause my picture will still be cute twenty five year old Becky and I always enjoy an opportunity to confound people...)and got myself a Library card. Which is how I encountered this gorgeous building.

This is the Arabian Library, designed by Richard + Bauer. I was totally struck by the contrast of the red orange rust color against the sharply blue western sky.

The entrance is quite narrow and as you pass through it, you cannot escape the feeling that you are in a deep gully. Suddenly the space breaks open into a brightly lit courtyard where the light plays along the rusty Richard Serra-style walls and immediately conjures up the Grand Canyon.

The whole experience was so totally unexpected. I'm accustomed to dismal cinder block libraries with buzzing fluorescent lighting and no natural light. (Perhaps that isn't entirely true. My favorite library in Wayzata, Minnesota is quite pleasant to be in, with loads of natural light and a beautiful view of Lake Minnetonka, but the whole thing just sort of melts into the background. I can't recall being made aware of my surroundings, or noticing my interaction with the building)

I suppose this is what great architecture is supposed to do. It connects you with your surroundings and reminds you of what it is you have come to the building to do. I once read in an art history class about how public buildings (legislatures, court houses, libraries, museums, churches) have traditionally been set on a "pedestal" of stairs (as far back as ancient Rome) to remind us of the principles these buildings represent. As we mount the stairs we are forced to leave the street and ordinary life behind and meditate on the transcendent principles these buildings represent (Law, Justice,Knowledge,Art,God).

I think the Arabian Library is a great example of how wrong that idea is. You don't need to elevate something to make is special and humbling.

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