Jeroen Musch

Can this flashy library outside Rotterdam combat the town's 10 percent illiteracy rate?

The Dutch firm MVRDV has just completed its latest project: the Book Mountain and Library Quarter, both part of a larger plan to breathe new life into the town of Spijkenisse, located within the Rotterdam metropolitan area.

Located in the main town square next to a prominent church and surrounded by a small neighborhood of 42 housing units, the Book Mountain is quite literally a mountain of books. A series of commercial and community spaces are stacked into a pyramid-shaped structure, which is wrapped in a 480-meter-long bookcase.  The glass facades fully expose the library shelves, inviting people to step in and grab a book.

The flashy architecture was conceived as a way to address the community’s 10 percent illiteracy rate. Hoping to intrigue and instill interest, MVRDV designed the library as a huge advert for reading and placed it at the heart of the development. Besides the library, the 9,300-square-meter building houses an environmental education center, a chess club area, auditoriums, meeting rooms, commercial offices, and retail space.  A café at the top of the pyramid offers panoramic views of the town.

The shape of the building alludes to traditional Dutch farms, a reminder of the town’s agricultural past. Another reference to rural life resides in the bookshelf design, made of recycled flowerpots. Fireproof and economic, the versatile shelves accompany visitors throughout the building, merging with banisters, parapets, and the information desk.

The library has no air conditioning, relying instead on natural ventilation and sun screens to ensure a comfortable indoor climate. In winter, an innovative combination of underground heat storage, floor heating, and double glazing developed by Arcadis in collaboration with MVRDV keeps the building warm.

To visually connect the new structure to the existing townscape, the architects used a brick wall – a ubiquitous material in the local architecture – to separate the library from the rest of the building. This created a brick core visible through the glass walls.

The same material was used in the treatment of the surrounding piazza and in the residential buildings in the Library Quarter, creating a unifying image for the whole ensemble that further emphasizes the luring glow of the Book Mountain.

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