NEW YORK, August 4 — REX and Principal in Charge Joshua Prince-Ramus have been named the winner of the BibLLLiotheek competition to build a "Library of the Future" for the city of Kortrijk, Belgium. REX partnered with landscape architects Bureau Bas Smets in entering the competition, which included both a building and master plan.
In making its decision, the BibLLLiotheek jury noted that the REX design was "the most inspiring model," and praised "the originality of the design approach compared to other design teams."
The city of Kortrijk sought to create a library that would combine the functions of a traditional central library with a Life-Long Learning Center and bring in the city’s Music Center as an equal partner. The new combination was named the "LLLibrary."
The city’s proposed site for the LLLibrary, however, was blocked from the cultural axis of the Casinoplein, a prominent Kortrijk public square, by the existing Music Center building. REX proposed shifting the LLLibrary to the Music Center site itself and enveloping portions of the existing building. This move would free up the original site (the Conservatoriumplein) for commercial development, helping offset the capital cost of the LLLibrary project.
[site plan (detail) | click image for larger, expanded view | image courtesy REX]
Departing from the press release, I'm not at first glance particularly impressed. Sure, the competition is basically just renderings at this stage, but I'm hard-pressed to apply words like inspiring to what I see. I'll admit the decision to reuse portions of the existing Music Center is an interesting one, giving the LLLibrary a prominence in the urban fabric and adding facilities to the program, but this gesture still requires a good deal of demolition, adding to the overall cost of the project. Those costs will probably be offset by the sale of the adjacent lot, though if the latter will be developed per the diagrams on REX's site (where many more images help explain the winning design) or if it will be a less than flattering neighbor to the LLLibrary remains to be seen. The view below illustrates how the LLLibrary will be seen on the Casinoplein axis described above.
[exterior rendering (detail) | click image for larger, expanded view | image courtesy REX]
The desire for holistic education is often undermined by dividing learning into separate institutions. Typically, media-based learning is assigned to libraries; instructor-based learning is delegated to schools, and practice-based learning is monopolized by performance venues. REX’s LLLibrary aims to heal these divisions by weaving together the cumulative human and technological intelligence of the Library, the Life-Long Learning Center and the Music Center.
REX’s design collectively groups the functions of the Library, the Life-Long Learning Center and the Music Center into an enclosed half and a free-plan half, each layered into a linear, educational "Ribbon."
The enclosed functions — classrooms, meeting spaces, offices and auditoriums — are organized within the Ribbon’s interior. The Library’s public space and book stacks form the Ribbon’s free-plan rooftop and can be wholly reconceived as necessary.
[exterior night rendering (detail) | click image for larger, expanded view | image courtesy REX]
When dealing with the projects of REX it's practically impossible to not mention OMA (Joshua Prince-Ramus's former employer), in this case the unbuilt Jussieu Libraries. In that project, "floor planes are manipulated to connect; thus forming a single trajectory - much like an interior boulevard that winds its way through the entire building." In other words, a ribbon. This technique was also used in the Seattle Public Library, on which Ramus was partner-in-charge. Obviously this does not make the design bad, but deeming the design "original" is in this case relative only to the other competitors.
[interior rendering (detail) | click image for larger, expanded view | image courtesy REX]
Many of the LLLibrary’s subject-area and institutional specialists are now brought together in a zone of concentrated interdisciplinary expertise, named the Synter (Center + Synergy). Located in the heart of the building’s atrium, the Synter will serve as a hub for efficient, in-depth information exchange, and as the gateway to the larger offerings of the Library, the Life-Long Learning Center and the Music Center.
And by incorporating the existing Music Center’s auditoriums into the new building, REX’s plan makes cost-effective use of recently renovated performance infrastructure.
REX’s proposal, the jury stated, met all of the BibLLLiotheek award criteria and the "expectations and aspirations of the client." The jury appreciated in particular that the design resulted in a cultural complex which "fully integrated" the Music Center itself.
Having looked at the project a little bit more in depth, I'll admit first impressions can be deceiving. The design is derivative in certain ways, but the winding ribbon makes sense in this location. It responds to the portions of the Music Center that are retained, as well as the Casinoplein axis, though I think the latter's relationship could be stronger; a top-floor "lookout" works well for those inside but is too subtle in the urban realm. Like OMA's designs, the formal result is not what is important, it is the functional relationships that drive the project towards its final shape. It sounds organic, like Frank Lloyd Wright's design process but with much different results. Though I could see the architect of the Guggenheim's spiral ramp appreciating the Kortrijk Ribbon.