by Laura Neilson
Mexico City's recently reopened Biblioteca Vasconcelos is an outstanding example of a contemporary digital-age library, not to mention a significant display of Mexico's modern architectural movement. The $100 million undertaking was designed by Mexican architect Alberto Kalach, who beat out more than 500 other proposals from worldwide firms with his concept of the library as the "great ark" of knowledge.
Dedicated to José Vasconcelos, one of the country's most influential minds of the early twentieth century, the library originally opened in May 2006 but was temporarily shuttered in March 2007 due to structural complications. After 19 months of renovations and reconstruction, the main building and its surrounding campus, including a cafeteria, bookshop, exhibition space, a 500-seat auditorium and a botanical garden, reopened to the public.
Juxtaposed against the old-town environs of its Santa Maria LaRibera district, Biblioteca Vasconcelos is a 36,000 square-meter (400,000 square-feet) glass and metal behemoth, containing over half a million books—with a capacity to expand upwards to 1.5 million—and 750 computers.
Much like Rem Koolhaas' optically-amusing Seattle Public Library or the Salt Lake City Public Library, designed by Moshe Safdie, the structure gives a forward-thinking nod to the enduring relevance of libraries as design-worthy public spaces.