Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Blankenberge Public Library, by Sergison Bates

Sergison Bates’ scheme for a new public library in Blankenberge, Belgium, is a lesson in how bring redundant buildings back to life
In 2004, everyone thought the book was dead,” says Stephen Bates. “Libraries were all to be about digital, fluid, open-plan space.”
It was the year that Sanaa unveiled its proposal for an undulating landscape of learning at EPFL in Lausanne, swooping mounds of wifi knowledge unshackled from the tyranny of the bookshelf. It was the time that David Adjaye’s barcode-clad Idea Stores pointed to a future of the library as a public living room, community hub and dance studio in one. It was a time when the arrival of the e-reader looked set to threaten print as we knew it.
It was also the year that Sergison Bates entered, and won, the open competition for a new public library in Blankenberge, a small seaside town on the coast of West Flanders, with a decidedly conventional notion of rooms with books in them. “We still had an idea of the library as a series of rooms with four corners, surrounded by books, with a view out to the city,” says Bates. Its scheme stood out precisely because of its radical simplicity.
The scheme was the only entry to propose retaining the late 19th century school building that was the allotted site for the project — rather than just its listed facade. All other schemes swept everything away behind the frontage, replacing the cellular rooms with big open floors in an approach symptomatic of what Bates describes as a general antipathy towards historic buildings in Belgium.
This attitude is particularly surprising in Blankenberge, a town that was heavily bombed during the first world war and has very few pre-20th century structures left. Together with the church and railway station, the school building constitutes the only remaining historic fabric, occupying an important place on the main thoroughfare from the station to the beach. Yet it had remained derelict for the past 20 years.
Read the full article here
Originally published in BD, 20 June 2012