Francine Houbens spektakulärster Bibliotheks-Bau ist die Library of Birmingham, die größte Bibliothek Europas, die täglich zwischen 10.000 und 15.000 Besucher aufnimmt. Die Menschen kommen nicht nur, um Bücher auszuleihen, sondern auch um zu arbeiten, zu lesen, Filme und Musik schauen. Auch Weiterbildung, etwa Sprach- oder Computerkurse finden in den öffentlichen Räumen statt, dessen Wegeplanung fast an ein Kaufhaus erinnert. Wie liest man hier in Ruhe? Wie denkt sie "Lesen" gestalterisch in ihren Entwürfen?
You are creating libraries for twenty years, but also buildings for companies. How do you understand "reading" in an architectural way?
There are many different ways of reading, studying, learning. People have different ways of doing these things. So it's extremely important to create different kinds of atmospheres in one building. Nowadays, some people prefer standing to sitting because it's healthier. People who want to work in silence can put a headset on and be in a silent place. It's happening in such a diverse way. If you look at how the Library of Birmingham is used, you can see that many different people are coming there. Maybe the traditional library is more an individual place - you have a chair and a table, you concentrate and read a book, or you are writing. Now it becomes more and more a collaborative space, so there is an enormous need for small rooms, where two, five or eight people can work together. Don't forget the library is not just consuming, but also producing new life. It's much more diverse than in the past.
We all know the typical library with all the books and some tables in the corner to read...
And with the silence, yes. But it's changing.
Where did you place the reading areas in the Library of Birmingham?
They are also there. It has quiet places; the quiet areas in the corners. But it’s a building that groups many libraries into one.
How far did you go with diversity? Do you, for example, allow people to lie on the floor to read?
Not really, it’s a public building, not a private home. So it's also about how to clean it; hygiene is an issue in public buildings. We don't want to encourage people to sleep there. We try to balance welcoming all people and not disturbing each other. In Birmingham, the children library is really like a private one. There you can sit on cushions, be playful, and you have this storytelling-space where you can relax on the floor.
Are there cultural differences depending on whether you create a library in Birmingham, New York or another city?
Absolutely. There are different cultural backgrounds even though we are all human beings. During the Bibliothekskongress in Leipzig this week, somebody showed me some libraries in Leipzig. This was very interesting for me. What I discovered working in Birmingham and in the United States is that the context of working in a library is for me more interesting than in my own country. In Germany - and that’s also the Dutch tradition - you have the Volkshochschule, which is separated from the libraries. But in the U.S., you often go to the library to study. Also in the UK, it's more a system of educating the population. In Germany, the tradition is about literature and books. What I learned from working internationally is that this combination is very interesting and very motivating. I believe it's also an economic need, the world is changing so rapidly. Its a need to keep on investigating education. Libraries are a kind of very-welcoming step to help people. And it's an investigation of the population.
Where is your most favourite place to read? Where do you enjoy it the most?
I always say home is a feeling. Because I travel a lot, I can read everywhere. I like it in the garden, but I also like to read in bed. I read a lot. When I want to learn from it, I do it in a very concentrated way. When I read the newspaper, I do it at the table. When I read for my job, I'm standing behind a table. When I am relaxing, and on holiday, then I read almost lying down. It depends on what I‘m reading.
FRANCINE HOUBEN, geboren 1955, Architektin und Gründerin des niederländischen Büros Mecanoo in Delft. Unter ihren preisgekrönten Entwürfen sind auch viele Bibliotheken. Derzeit verantwortet sie die Neugestaltung der New York Public Library. Anlässlich der Leipziger Buchmesse sprach sie Anfang der Woche auf dem 7. Bibliothekskongress in Leipzig.