Stockholm City Library: An aesthetic experience

Stockholm City Library

Written by Library Planet friend Alejandra Quiroz Hernández

Maybe you have seen it illustrating articles about academic libraries or pretty much anything related to librarianship. The most recognized features are those curvy shelfs. Are you for real? A curved stack? What kind of geometric defiance is that?

In the corner of Sveavägen and Odengatan, a huge orange building erects. You just can’t miss it. The circular top of the building draws your attention but wait until you get inside: you won’t believe your eyes.

If you take the steps from Sveavägen and enter the Library through the main entrance, you’ll cross a revolving door and see a stair in front of you. The walls are decorated with thin black stucco relief with passages from the Illiad, sculpted by Ivar Johnsson. When reaching the top of the stairs, most visitors turn their heads around. The core of the building is a magnificent rotunda divided in three levels, all covered in books, most of them literature. Jawdropping, right? The rotunda is inside a cube whose corners host study rooms and the collection, organized in topics. Some of the nooks between the circular and square buildings host special collections such as Poesi Bazar as well as staff elevators and stairs.

Gunnar Asplund was the architect in charge of such magnificent building, erected between 1924 and 1927. Its opening had place during the spring of 1928. The inside building is a cylinder surrounded by four corners that from the outside resemble a cube. However, such corners aren’t interconnected to the cylinder. I realized that until I went deep inside the building and saw the space between them. Actually, that unreacheable part to the public has been recently shared on the library Facebook.

The library is full of delicate details that make it a great work of art. You can lose yourself looking the floor, the ceiling, the furniture. Everything catches your eye. The main floor of the rotunda is often used for talks and presentations that otherwise would require an auditorium. The coexistence of noise and silence is challenging but most of the time works just fine.

Just before leaving Sweden for good, I paid a quick visit to the Library just to say goodbye. I had to buy a tote bag and a kitchen towel printed with an image of the bold orange building. I was attended by librarian Patrik Schylström, whom I had seen repeatedly during my visits. We had a quick talk and just before I left, he asked me if I had seen the original handles. I was puzzled. I thought I knew everything about this library. After saying no, he walked me over to a wall by Odengatan entrance. I had passed dozens of times but never paid attention to the case. There they were: the handles that used to be placed in the Sveavägen entrance.

Designed by Nils Sjögren, the handles depict Eve holding an apple, inviting you in; Adam bites the apple on your way out. I was moved to tears by this discovering on my very last moments in Stockholm. Patrik left me there to contemplate and take in such beauty. Today Sveavägen entrance has a revolving door and accessory doors on the sides. I can only imagine the pleasure of grabing the original handles as you went in to satisfy your desire for knowledge.

Surprise: if you have the chance, stay in the library until the end of service hours. I was absorted on my reading when I was awaken by an unexpected metallic sound. I turned around and saw a young librarian going through the rooms with a gong in his hand. That’s how they announce the end of the day and library service.

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