Study Break: Best Library Architecture

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Last week on her New York Times blog, Allison Arieff wrote about our favorite architecture bookstore, William Stout Books in San Francisco. It got us thinking about books, architecture, and the places where they come together. We love books, but happen to remember where we read more than what we read. The tiny balcony looking over the suburbs in Seville (Moby Dick), the under-stuffed chair in the student lounge at college (Paradise Lost), the patch of sun on the living room floor of our parents’ house in Ohio (Savage Detectives).

So what makes a good room to read (and write) in? Marx had the library at the British Museum, where he’d go all day, every day. Roald Dahl had his hut. Bruce Chatwin called a place to write in “a mythical beast,” and spent his life trying to find one. Lots of writers work at home, but we prefer libraries. Why? Tension.

The best libraries balance crowded stacks with big rooms, cozy corners with expansive views, filled space with empty space. They are part book, part blank page; part inspiration, part potential. The Beinecke in New Haven is a great example, or the British Library in London (who cares that Prince Charles says it looks like a secret police academy). Both have central cores stuffed with books and ringed by super-high lobbies. The NYPL Humanities and Social Sciences reading room is obvious. The library at Phillips Exeter is great, too, with its gorgeous central atrium — the British Library in reverse. Our local branch of the BPL? Not so much. White and Willensky call it “a Sousa march — self-satisfied, robust, and stridently Beaux Arts.” Brash, but not breathtaking. Have a favorite not on the list? Add it in the comments; we’ll be uptown.