Before the official start of the Liber LAG conference seminars, we had the opportunity to visit The Mediatheque Andre Malraux in Strasbourg
I had previously studied this building as their wayfinding strategy was provided as a highly regarded example in one of my favourite books on the topic “Construction and Design Manual – Wayfinding and Signage” (Meuser and Pogade, 2010). I recognised the building when I walked up to the formidable, former grain silo which was located on the former Strasbourg Docks. The static lifting cranes arch over the open walkway alongside the water front, pointing towards the Library. The building is amazing – a 100 meter long warehouse, the front half being the original 1932 building and the back half a modern extension. The original warehouse has been well preserved as the building has been modernised.
The unashamedly brash and loud wayfinding application runs through the interior of the building through a variety of darting red lines and shapes. At the beginning of the tour, our guide proudly explained that this library aimed to create a playground where people can immerse themselves. The cylindrical and ‘camembert-like’ book sorter stands solid on the ground floor. The Library’s colour scheme and interior finish is striking although the team quickly found that the ever moving interior of their space soon knocked the precision measured wayfinding lines and markings out of sync when items such as shelves were moved. This playful, public library was designed to bring out the industrial heritage of the building’s former life, as demonstrated by the mushroom shaped concrete pillars and exposed services. The interior and exterior walls and surfaces carry a range of text and quotes from the Library’s collections.
The interior stairs are double staircases to pay homage to those found in French castles. I love a good staircase, and this is where I decided to take a rare ‘selfie’!. All the floors are resin coated concrete which provides a fantastic finish, is durable and ages very well (though it doesn’t support a quiet environment!). Though the Library is comparatively noisy, something that the Library team admit is frequently commented on, they proudly state that they do not want a ‘temple-like’ and silent environment. In fact, the building and library it now houses was never designed to be quiet. The Library is now eight years old and at the time of its original design, the team had not anticipated there would be such a big demand for power and data from its users (the customer service team are now regularly asked by users to loan charging cables and leads just as we do in the AGLC).
This is a very busy public library, with approximately 2000 visits a day. Strasbourg is a cosmopolitan city and the Library offers a variety of facilities for use including TV and DVD players, PCs, a large multi-media collection, a children’s section and a fantastic reading room – my favourite place in the Library. The space has enormous windows – a result of the exterior wall being completely broken out and double cavity glazing installed which also support the heating and cooling system. The configuration of the internal elements also supports the flow of sunlight through the building during the day, as can be seen in the positioning of the desks and partitions in the space. The playful theme continues into this somewhat serious space, by means of the card catalogue collection having been spray painted silver which complemented the gold floor and individually named reading tables.
This is a hard building, but the library which occupies it isn’t. Its high visitor numbers and prime location solidify its purpose as a central hub of media, information and library services for the city of Strasbourg. Even the exhibition space on the upper floor is playful yet serious at the same time – it is designed and coordinated by a specialist art curator and it’s effective in every way. I am not sure if the wayfinding left as big an impression on me in reality as I thought it would have done having studied it from a technical reference book, but the Library, the building and it’s playful manner is what gives it it’s uniqueness.
Mike Kelly, Library Space Project Manager