Don’t be fooled by the deceptively simple exterior of this library building in Saint Denis, France. Don’t even be fooled by the word library. This is the Saint Denis Archives Building. It was designed by Antonini + Darmon Architectes to function as hard drive– a reference to the most popular form of storage since the shelf. Even though the architects don’t mean to take this metaphor literally, there are moments where it becomes conspicuous. For instance there is a giant turntable on the ground floor that allows bookmobiles and shuttles to be more efficiently packed away inside the building. In plan, it makes a giant circle that briefly makes the plan look like the innards of a computer.
But the hard drive also points to one of the biggest challenges facing libraries today: the question of function. Increasingly, folks have access to the internet at home, and with more information at your fingertips than you could possibly ever want, why go to the library? No longer a mere repository for printed books, libraries are hubs of information across a variety of media. In fact, sometimes we can’t even call them libraries. We call them resource centers or– in this case- an archive building. And maybe this building is something different (the translation from French is a little iffy) but the most distinctive feature of this hardrive is its case. The simple wooden skin surrounds each floor, varying just enough to create different opacities. It gives the project both visual interest and weight, what the architects call inertia. But mostly to me, it makes the project more exciting. Still, I know I’m judging a book by its cover.