Hugon Kowalski

More than half of Poland doesn't seem to be reading anything. Would a more festive library design help them pick up a book?

In 2010, Poland's National Library performed a survey to determine the reading habits of the Polish citizenry. The results were not buoying: 56 percent of Poles had not read a book in the past year, either in hard or electronic form. Just as bad was that 46 percent had not attempted to digest anything longer than three pages in the previous month – and this included students and university graduates.

But who's to blame here: The willfully non-literate masses for not trekking to the public library? Or is it the library's fault for not attracting these individuals, what with its classically stodgy, hermetic-cage-for-learning design?

At least one Polish architect believes libraries should bear some of the blame for a lack of reading. Hugon Kowalski, who runs UGO Architecture and Design, thinks that no matter how grand or inspiring a library's appearance is, many people will not flock to it unless it offers amenities other than plopping down with a book. “A modern building will not attract new users to a library, at least not in the long run," he writes. "People interested in its novelty will probably go there only once.”

So Kowalski conceived of a new kind of library that he hopes will one day be built in Mosina, a town just south of Poznań. On its first floor, it's all bibliotheca: Patrons squat on moddish stools among stacks and stacks of books. But then it gets weird: In the middle of the library is a glass column full of water and flailing human bodies. Go up one level and you're suddenly in the middle of a vast swimming facility, complete with a snaking water slide that takes whooping swimmers on a ride inside and outside of the building.

Kowalski got to thinking about his watery wonderland of reading after consulting surveys that showed Poles "rarely indicated" a desire to build new libraries. Rather, they wanted to see more sports halls, pools, kindergartens and retail shops. So the architect decided to supply the public with a fun reason to repeatedly visit a mixed-use library facility. If it so happens that bathers exit the pool's locker room with a fierce desire to consume Hans Fallada, that's just a happy side effect of the building's design.

The cost of operating the library could conceivably be subsidized with the above-ground pool, Kowalski believes. Such libraries would "parasitize" on their neighbor facilities, with the revenues generated from charging pool admission going toward librarian salaries, book repair and other things. The mixed-use library is an idea that a few cities over the world have already experimented with. The Hague's public library tries to throw a net over a large audience by offering jazz concerts, art shows and a piano-practice room. The Hollywood Library in Portland, Oregan, entices potential readers with an adjoining cafe offering coffee and buttery pastries.

Here are a few more renderings of the poolbrary from Kowalski's portfolio, which also includes this beehive-shaped parking garage and a Barcelona “rock hostel” that literally is a pile of rocks, meant for mountain-climbing practice. In this imagined scene, chlorinated patrons take to an open-air balcony to soak in the weirdly grayish Polish sunlight:

A view inside reveals columned book stacks, an outdoor reading area and the see-through bottom of the pool:

The works of Ryszard Kapuściński only get better when savored after a brutal, no-holds-barred pool-noodle fight:

Here are some of the other uses that UGO conceived for a mixed-use library structure, such as a skate park, grocery store, night club, etc., etc.:

Images courtesy of Hugon Kowalski, UGO Architecture and Design, via Designboom.

About the Author

John Metcalfe
John Metcalfe

John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.

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