Fake Books, Fake Libraries

November 17, 2017

Well, we’ve heard a lot about fake truth during the past twelve months. There is plenty of fake information floating around on the web. College students are now compelled to go to websites to check not only their research sources, but even the legitimacy of research websites. Plagiarism is rampant. Where will it stop?

The Architect’s Newspaper, my favorite source for real news about buildings, just published an article on a new library in China that was constructed so fast it couldn’t order any books for its collection. In Tianjin Binhai, a Dutch architecture firm with a name that could be fake–MVRDV–decided to paint its empty shelves to resemble rows of tomes in lieu of filling them. The embarrassed government officials are now backpedaling to explain their decision to use the central atrium of the library as a “multi-use space” that cannot contain any books on its six story, wave-like shelves. Originally designed to contain 1.2 million volumes, plans now are for a measly 200,000.

To make matters worse, the building’s internet popularity has brought 15,000 visitors per week to look at the glitzy atrium, where they find no books. Yahoo reports that the equally wavy staircases in the space have caused multiple injuries because people can’t negotiate their varying treads–“People trip a lot. Last week an old lady slipped and hit her head hard. There was blood,” said a guard who asked not to quoted.

Meanwhile, back in New York the NY Public Library unveiled plans by another Dutch architect, Mecanoo, for a $317 million renovation of its landmark Schwarzman building on 42nd Street. Francine Houben, Mecanoo’s principal, made it clear what she thinks of the iconic central library: “its not easy to find your way around here.” Perhaps her New York associates, Beyer Blinder Belle, should give her a tour. After all, they supported an earlier, abandoned master plan that would replace the historic stacks with a vast internet cafe.

She proposed changing the entrance from Fifth Avenue, where the monumental stairs welcome the public into Astor Hall, of the most spectacular and beautiful rooms in the world, to a mousey cut-out on 42nd Street. Carrère and Hastings designed Astor Hall so that the public would ascend marble stairways along a logical and elegant procession to the top floor Rose Reading Room, now another interior landmark. If Houben can’t celebrate this aspect of an architectural masterpiece, she should be fired. Obviously Dutch architects aren’t taught how to design stairs or understand building circulation. Or perhaps she’s just a fakeStacks 1.