Book club: inside OMA’s Qatar National Library
Bucking the trend for digitalisation, this project, a large-scale library complex for Qatar, is one of OMA’s most striking works to-date. The scheme is impressive in scale and ambition, comprising within a single building the National Library, the Public Library, the University Library, and the Heritage Collection – a selection of valuable historical texts and manuscripts related to Arab-Islamic civilisation. Providing a home for over a million books and thousands of readers, the Arab country’s new Qatar National Library spans an area of 42,000 sq m and has just opened its doors to the public.
Led by Rem Koolhaas, Ellen van Loon, Lyad Alsaka, Vincent Kersten and Gary Owen, the project was conceived as a ‘single room’, explain the architects. Here, both people and books can coexist, in a building, where book storage and circulation spaces create a unique internal topography. Accessed from a large, triangular open space at its heart, the library interior is defined by three large aisles that are flanked by shelving, and serve as socialising, resting and reading areas, offering views across the library and out towards the surrounding environment.
‘We designed the space so you can see all the books in a panorama’, says Koolhaas. ‘You emerge immediately surrounded by literally every book – all physically present, visible, and accessible, without any particular effort. The interior is so large it’s on an almost urban scale: it could contain an entire population, and also an entire population of books.’
At the heart of the building and built on a six-metre deep lower ground level, in the style of an archaeological excavation, sits the Heritage Collection. Here, in a special section clad in beige travertine stone, is the library’s rich selection of historical documents, symbolically placed at the complex’s very core.
The library, which is only the third of its typology to be completed by OMA ever, forms part of the Education City, Qatar’s new academic campus, which is the home of a wealth of university and institution buildings – aiming to highlight the country’s leading role, globally, within the sector.