Library Towers and the Vertical Dimension of Knowledge

  • Van Acker W
  • Uyttenhove P
  • Van Peteghem S
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Verticality, and related figures such as the tower, stack, or mountain,
are commonly used as spatial metaphors to express the hierarchy that we
apply to information and knowledge. But these metaphors that transform
the vertical dimension of knowledge into words are also translated into
library architecture. Different libraries include, or have been built in
the form of, a tower. In these cases, verticality as a spatial metaphor
is folded back onto the spatial and architectural field where it
originated. Library towers transform verticality as a concept that
conveys relations in knowledge into architectural language. The
translation of verticality as a dimension of knowledge into architecture
thus forms a strange double bind between space and knowledge. This
article analyzes how libraries have expressed the vertical dimension of
knowledge in their architecture and identifies different approaches that
make the vertical dimension of knowledge architecturally present. The
library of Ghent University (Belgium), by Henry van de Velde, includes a
storehouse of books that has been completely accommodated in a tower.
The architecture of the French National Library, by Dominique Perrault,
plays with the metaphor of the tower in a semantic manner. Other
libraries, such as the ``Book Mountain{''} by MVRDV in Spijkenisse,
exploit the book stack architecturally; and some libraries, such as The
Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, by Neutelings Riedijk
architects, do not build up but down, in the underground, to house their

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  • Wouter Van Acker

  • Pieter Uyttenhove

  • Sylvia Van Peteghem

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