A library for Villanueva

A piece of architecture for boks joins the Columbian goverment’s programme for social emancipation. Design Carlos Meza, Alejandro Piñol, Germán Ramírez Miguel Torres. Text Francesca Picchi. Photos Nicolás Cabrera Andrade.

The public library in Villanueva, a town at the foot of the Cordillera mountains in the region known as Colombia’s corredor petrolero, was designed not to look as if it had “landed” there like an alien body. Rather, its architecture seeks to express a rootedness in this territory that interprets the presence of an important cultural institution like that of a public library not only as a signal of urban identity but also as a form of social emancipation: the library was requested by the inhabitants themselves, after a series of decisively organised public meetings.

It is worth mentioning the vocation for books expressed by the whole country. The Plan Nacional de Lectura y Bibliotecas – PNLB – was drawn up by public institutions to make Colombia “a nation of readers”. Besides consolidating the network of public libraries in urban areas (of which the beautiful España library in Medellín by Giancarlo Mazzanti may be taken as a symbol), the plan extends the service to rural parts of the country with the aim of “completely democratising books”. In 2007 alone the PNLB achieved its goal of setting up more than 750 public libraries.

In Villanueva, the architectural design is clearly stated in the monolithic quality of a simple volume, easily recognisable and identifiable in its urban context. In its plan the public and private dimensions are distinctly separate. The closed volume houses activities relating to the intimate sphere of reading, while the public side of the library is located under a large woven roof made of local wood, in the shape of a square opening onto the town.

The plain stone volume refers to a simple, immediate and spontaneous technology. Its stone walls, typical of rural architecture, speak an elementary constructional language. The library was in fact built with local materials (stones and pebbles from the nearby river, held together by wire netting rather than by cement and concrete), and a programme of participation in every stage of its construction was implemented under the supervision of the architects, who were thus able to deliver the library straight into the hands of the population.

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