Reading Is Fun-Damental
Martín Lejarraga brings the joy of discovery to a municipal library in Torre-Pacheco, Spain
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 6/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
A recent spate of cookbooks tries to get children to eat their fruit and vegetables by disguising them in well loved foods. Take The Sneaky Chef, with its recipes for Covert Quesadillas, hiding sweet potatoes and carrots; Barbell Burgers, surreptitiously containing spinach and oat bran; and other deceptively healthy meals. But what about inspiring kids to drop the video-game controls and pick up a book? Martín Lejarraga Arquitecto has masterminded what could be a new solution: sneaking a municipal library into a kid-oriented 5-acre park filled with playgrounds, swings, bike paths, rock-climbing walls, and skate ramps.
Martín Lejarraga is himself Basque-born, but the "reading park" is in Torre-Pacheco in southeastern Spain. Surrounding the library with all these attractions was his own idea, not part of the original brief. "The real value of any project is in giving what no one has asked for," he says. "In this case, that meant complementing the building program with a park that takes advantage of the mild Mediterranean climate and social and cultural diversity of the city."
Though the library is the park's centerpiece, it's nearly invisible from the surrounding neighborhood. The building literally inverts the classic typology of library as public monument to knowledge and enlightenment, raised at the top of a grand flight of stairs. (Flanking lions are optional.) Lejarraga instead scooped out the site's flat topography to create a largely subterranean 26,650-square-foot structure in a jagged, asymmetrical U shape—a stealth library. A Spanish architecture critic called it a "crater of ideas." Conceptual provocation aside, however, burying the back of the building has practical benefits. In the summertime, the ground keeps the interior cool. In winter, south-facing glass lets in the sun's warming rays. The only part of the library fully exposed aboveground is a small art gallery topping one end of the U. Making the gallery autonomous, with a separate street-level entrance, allows the opening hours to be independent of the library's. Similarly, a reading room at the opposite end of the U is designated as a 24-hour space with its own access from the park.
Lejarraga extended the park landscape onto the library roof to create a seamless, kinetic field of colored and textured surfaces. Trapezoidal skylights pop up like ersatz Donald Judd sculptures in different colored glass—at night, they light up with the help of the solar cells and fluorescent tubes installed inside. Angled sections of the concrete parapet double as chaise longues. For the more active, there are concrete "dunes" for skateboarding, painted bright blue and orange. The more contemplative can survey a giant world map, painted on the ground, or investigate hydroponic cultivation in two greenhouses.
The park's manicured lawn flows downhill into the library's courtyard, toward the bottom of the U, where the children's section is. Just in front of it, the ground is paved with wedges of artificial turf and orange rubber studded with palm trees and plastic Verner Panton chairs in matching orange—bringing the children's reading room out into the open. Placing the children's section at the center of the library of course reinforces the emphasis on kids.
To one side are a large reading room for adults and the 24-hour space. On the other side are the audiovisual collection, the main stacks, the periodicals area, a suite of flexible lecture and meeting rooms, and, at the very end, a sweeping concrete stair that spirals up to the gallery. The curtain wall of this wing is pierced by long concrete tables, creating literal continuity between indoors and out as visitors pull up a chair beneath the deep roof overhang.
The curtain wall's vertically staggered panels of glass alternate between bright orange, smoky blue, and pale green. Other hits of color come courtesy of bookshelves, chairs, and floor mats in warm red and orange and auditorium seats in cool shades of blue and green. Overall, though, Lejarraga stuck to durable, no-nonsense concrete. Floors are simply polished. High above, the exposed waffle-slab ceiling is broken up by a peppering of angular skylights. Where the slab extends outdoors, Lejarraga installed playful, inexpensive light fixtures on its underside. They're actually made from the plastic forms used to cast the slab, now recycled as translucent diffusers for colored fluorescent tubes. At night, the improvised fixtures light up like giant red, green, and blue gumdrops. Candy Land it's not, but the park has succeeded in attracting youngsters from all over Torre-Pacheco and even neighboring communities. Lejarraga's design indeed seems to have made reading as attractive to kids as a day at the park.