Is 18th‑century architecture your thing? Or are futuristic buildings with innovative design? Libraries are great places to check out interesting books and they can also be a window into a city’s culture and history. These 10 libraries give books a great home with their intricate art pieces, lavish design and mind‑blowing architecture.
Rows upon rows of curved white bookshelves at the Tianjin Binhai Library in China
The World’s Most Stunning Libraries
Photo: Josip I.
Starfield Library, Seoul, South Korea —Seoul’s Starfield Library, located in the COEX Mall, sets itself apart with an unconventional approach to what a library should be. Its eye‑catching design, with floor‑to‑ceiling bookshelves, makes it a popular attraction for tourists and locals alike. The library is advertised as an open public space where anyone can take a break and immerse themselves in a wide selection of books, magazines and e‑books.
Photo: Ricardo Bhering
The Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil —The Real Gabinete Português da Leitura is a must‑see when visiting Rio de Janeiro. Its castle‑like exterior is one thing, but the extravagant interior is something else. With beautifully framed bookshelves, intricate ceiling details and a stained glass skylight, this library is lavish and, as the name suggests, will make visitors feel like royalty.
Photo: Beinecke Library
Yale’s Beinecke Library, Connecticut, U.S. —Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library is one of the largest buildings in the world dedicated entirely to rare books and manuscripts. The library has a windowless exterior in order to protect its collections from sun damage and houses all the books within a huge glass case. In case of an emergency, the library has a Cardox system that fills the glass case with the chemical ECARO‑25 to put out fires without destroying the books inside.
Photo: Nolan Monaghan
Tianjin Binhai Library, Tianjin, China —The design of the Tianjin Binhai Library, by MRVDV, makes it an architectural masterpiece, as well as a great place to catch up on a good book. The oval shape of the exterior windows makes way for the spherical auditorium on the interior, creating the shape of an eye. The library contains reading rooms, lounging areas and even rooftop patios. And, of course, the bookshelves, which contour to the walls of the five‑level building, give the eye dimension and make it that much more eye‑catching – get it?
Photo: Michael Grimm
Calgary Central Library, Calgary, Canada —The Calgary Central Library is one of the most actively used libraries in North America for good reason. Its geometric windows give way to a glowing wooden interior, right in the middle of the city. The library houses a plethora of books and runs a variety of free programs for all interests. It also hosts authors, artists and historians in residence, making the Calgary Central Library a social hub for all book lovers.
Photo: Strahov Library
Strahov Library, Prague, Czech Republic —The Strahov Monastery Library is one of the best‑preserved historical libraries, housing approximately 200,000 texts. The intricately detailed ceiling paintings, by Siard Nosecký and Franz Anton Maulbertsch, resemble the Sistine Chapel. The library consists of two main halls: The Theological Hall and the Philosophical Hall together contain thousands of old scripts and original copies of books on theology, religion, science, mathematics, philosophy, astronomy and more.
Photo: Marco Capitanio
Tama Art University Library, Tokyo, Japan —The Tama Art University Library, formally named the Hachioji Library, was designed with its environment in mind. The smooth concrete arches and glass walls are meant to flow with the land that the library sits on, giving readers inside a perfect view of the nature that surrounds them. The library features a gallery space and theatre area, as well as about 200,000 books covering a range of topics like art, design and architecture, available to the public and the university’s students alike.
Photo: Director, Rampur Raza Library
The Rampur Raza Library, Rampur, India —India’s Rampur Raza Library is an incredible site of Indo‑Islamic cultural heritage, built by the Nawabs of Rampur State. The library’s collection contains 60,000 books alongside a variety of other historical pieces such as Islamic calligraphy, rare texts in Arabic and Persian and astronomical instruments and miniature paintings.
Photo: State Palaces and Gardens of Baden-Württemberg, Günther
Wiblingen Monastery Library, Ulm, Germany —The Wiblingen Monastery’s library was built between 1740 and 1750 to be an artistic masterpiece, complete with intricate statues by Dominikus Hermenegild Herberger, pillars with gold detailing and an extravagant ceiling fresco painted by Franz Martin Kuen. At its peak, the library housed around 15,000 texts and other historical treasures and was viewed as an important place where treasures of wisdom and science could be found. Select works are still stored at the site, with the others scattered among various other libraries.
Photo: BAnQ Vieux-Montréal
BAnQ Vieux‑Montreal, Montreal, Canada —The BAnQ (Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec) is a network of 10 archive centres across Quebec. The Old Montreal location, which houses public and private archives, lives in what used to be a business school, built in the early 1900s. The consultation room, with intricate white terraces which line the walls, can hold up to 200 people. The library has over 15,000 reference books, 100 collected periodicals and 20,000 microfilms, making it an essential place for genealogists and family history researchers.