Hubert Burda Media

The World’s Coolest Libraries

We thumb through 11 of the world’s coolest libraries to mark the United Nations’ World Book Day (April 23).


Kunming University of Science and Technology Library

Kunming, Yunnan, China
What’s most distinctive about this library is its stunning spiral rotunda. Allowing natural light to filter through, one gets a sense of bookish awe by simply standing and gazing up from the atrium level. Every floor incorporates tall-backed seats and functional reading desks, with books divided into colour-coded portals for easy searching. The 27,000sq m library was completed in 2012, and has since become one of Kunming’s most treasured houses of knowledge.


Old Library of Trinity College

Dublin, Ireland
Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, this bookspace is the oldest in all of Ireland and proudly bears claim to the title of the largest single chamber library in the world. Known as the Long Room, it is a 65m long cavernous hallway lined with more than 200,000 of the library’s oldest books and a collection of impressive marble busts, which pay homage to famous Irish authors such as Dublin-born writer Jonathan Swift. Apart from its remarkable interior, the library also contains The Book of Kells, a lavishly ornamented 9th century gospel manuscript, often referred to as Ireland’s finest national treasure, attracting more than 500,000 visitors a year.


Jay Walker’s Private Library

California, USA
American inventor, entrepreneur and millionaire Jay Walker has built a private library so fantastic that it was named “the most amazing library in the world” by Wired magazine. A celebration of human invention, it has a collection that spans everything fascinating from humankind’s history and future: More than 50,000 landmark books and museum-level artefacts ranging from a 900-year old Bible, to an original 1957 Russian Sputnik. Housed in a 3,600sq ft space that is itself a work of art, the library’s architecture was inspired by artist MC Escher’s mind-bending designs and features a glass bridge, multi-level tiers, platforms that seem to float, illuminated glass panels, a series of connecting stairways, dynamic lighting and specially commissioned art and music. Although closed to the public, Walker issues private tour invitations from time to time. Now that’s definitely a list to be on.


Tama Art University Library

Flawless Japanese design aesthetic and art combine in this beautiful bookspace located in the suburbs of Tokyo. Built by one of Japan’s leading architects Ito Toyo, it exudes a sense of natural lightness and peace with its arched walls, full-panelled glass windows, listening stations and creative, custom-designed furniture. Very relaxing. Very Zen.


Law Library of Munich

One does not have to be a jurist or law student to appreciate this elaborately gorgeous library. Located in Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall), this German literary gem was constructed between 1867 and 1908 in the Gothic Revival style, and certainly looks to revive any tired library-goer with its exquisite design, classical spiral staircase and wonderful collection of books.


Vennesla Library and Cultural House

Vest-Agder, Norway
Its incredibly eye-catching “rib” design has won this body-beautiful bookroom several awards, among them the prestigious Statens Byggeskikkpris 2012 (Norwegian State Prize for Good Buildings). Designed by architectural firm Helen and Hard, this complex also functions as a social space: It houses a café, meeting places, administrative areas and is also linked to an existing community house and learning centre.


Karl Lagerfeld’s Private Library

Marcus Tullius Cicero (43 BC) once said: “To add a library to a house is to give that house a soul.” Like Cicero, Kaiser Karl understood the importance of a library. And like King Midas, his touch lends magic to every project he undertakes. Located in his Central Paris studio apartment, this remarkable floor-to-ceiling library keeps books which are mostly on fashion and art. Having amassed a whopping 60,000 volumes, Lagerfeld adds yet another title to his top Chanel designer and fashion titan accomplishments: Owner of one of the world’s largest private library collections.


Library of Congress

Washington DC
Like a grand old dame sitting atop her throne that is Capitol Hill, the Library of Congress is proud to be the world’s largest library and the oldest federal cultural institution in the US. The lovely ornate marble complex consists of three buildings and is a consummate world resource with more than 35 million books, manuscripts and other printed materials in 460 languages, the largest rare book collection in North America, and the world’s biggest catalogue of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings. Founded in 1800, its crowning jewel is the Main Reading Room’s breathtaking dome design, constructed in a modified Italian Renaissance style and supported by marble columns and 11ft tall statues characterising “civilised life and thought”.


Abbey Library of St. Gall

St. Gallen, Switzerland
A timeless Baroque beauty like no other, the Abbey Library often renders its entrants speechless with its imposing, high-ceilinged frescoes, and vast repertoire of 160,000 manuscripts (digital and non-digital) and books which make up Switzerland’s oldest collection. It was granted a Unesco World Heritage Site status in 1983 together with the Abbey of St. Gall, a Carolingian monastery. The Greek inscription Psyches Iatreion hangs above the library’s Rococo entrance door and reads as a “Healing Place for the Soul” — a perfect description of this great hall of spirit and intellect.


National Library of Singapore

It is more than books that make up a library these days and Singapore’s “Library for the Tropics” is the perfect example. The iconic “green” building is renowned for its bio-climatic design, environmentally-friendly features and an approximate 6,000–8,000sq m of green space in the form of gardens and landscaped terraces throughout the building. Soaring high at 16 levels, the library has scooped up a list of notable prizes such as the Green Mark Platinum Award 2005, the Singapore Silver Award 2007 and the Asean Energy Efficiency Award 2007.


Stuttgart City Library

Also known as a media centre, this spacious five-storey white wonder has a clever minimalist design. Instead of using paint, Yi Architects conceptualised a neutral environment to be brought to life by colours injected by the library’s visitors, books and furnishings. With an array of rainbow hues neatly lining the walls and set against the white backdrop, the result is an intimate yet roomy landscape, warm and bright without direct lighting.
(Last updated February 26, 2014)