As a recent addition to a public housing estate, Bishan Community Library has rapidly grown to become a symbolic centre of the community, and has impacted positively on local life and the streetscape.
With a modest budget and programme, the library appears to be a simple building, but there is a high concentration of delightful details, demonstrating the virtuosity and commitment to good design.
A clear solution of projecting glass boxes is deployed on its main façade, and by extending these boxes from outside into the ramped internal street, a feeling of continuity is created. When one makes a transition from the entrance to the bookshelves, the promenade evokes a quiet sense of drama, space and volume.
In terms of building orientation and façade treatment, the design also takes environmental considerations into account. The east and west walls are given a more opaque treatment, with services located and shielded by the west wall.
Attention is consistently given to details such as the creation of semi-public/private spaces for reading, splayed treatment of the east wall windows and in the design of graphics and carpets. Through the clever choice of colours and furnishings, the design creates a cheerful environment and engages users across all ages, effectively making a particularly distinctive public building with a few deceptively simple devices.
The Jury applauds the design, for fulfilling its promise of being a community building in every way.
LOOI CHEE KIN
The completed project, Bishan Library, displays all the virtues of thoughtfulness, a touchstone in the canon of such an exceptional public building – arguably amongst the most loved by the public and the cognoscenti.
DR ONG BOON LAY
DEPARTMENT OF ARCHITECTURE
SCHOOL OF DESIGN AND ENVIRONMENT
NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE
Legend has it that Aristotle taught the kings of Egypt to set up a library, the Great Library of Alexandria, in 300 BC. The goal was to collect half a million scrolls and King Ptolemy I wrote to all the sovereigns and governors he knew asking them to send him works of every kind. In the United Kingdom, every book published in the nation, including pornography, is deposited in the major national libraries. Books are important and libraries are important because they are the warehouses of books. Indeed, libraries are nothing less than the repository of a nation’s collected wisdom.
As a young nation, Singapore values libraries as a place of learning, and while there are many libraries around, there are fewer local publications in them than there are international ones. We have not begun to collate our own wisdom and treasure what our history and the people who made and wrote that history has to say.
Look Boon Gee, the architect behind the design of Bishan Community Library, did not dismiss his own history with libraries and the reading of books in the design of this new library. And in remembering the past, he is able to make the future of reading more than just a relationship between the reader and the book. Readers today read from the computer a lot more than they read from books. But the relationship remains the same: an enquiring mind meeting the thoughts of another mind.
Bishan Community Library captures well this dialectics of differences and similarities. In many ways, the library harks back to days of old, and reminisces experiences of reading under the shade of trees. And yet, it is clearly a modern library, with modern facilities and modern aesthetics. It talks about the rainbow, an icon dating so far back as to be almost timeless. In our memory, it dates from forgotten childhood while in our history, it dates from millennia past. The rainbow is also universal - a thing of joy in the temperate countries as much as it is for the tropics.
The rainbow then appropriately frames the front façade of the library and does so with gestures of shades and overhang. It is a welcoming gesture, as well as an uplifting one. The poetics with nature continues indoors, where a garden in the basement awaits the children. While hard climate beats down outside the library, the inhabitants of this paradise can appreciate the wonders of nature from within the safety of their modern cave.
Boon Gee had to work to a budget and the library has to fulfill its function of administration and book-lending. But the hearts of the librarians, of the readers, and clearly of the architect as well, are not on the mundane but on the promise of the imagination. This is the real task of architecture - to take prose and make it poetry.
TAI LEE SIANG
DP ARCHITECTS PTE LTD
The Bishan Community Library challenges the notion of library as a place of repository. At first glance, it conveys a place of community celebration of knowledge and interaction. Changing the public’s perception of the library being a drab and dull place to one of great liveliness and stimulating learning is the first of many challenges that an architect faces when designing. Boon Gee not only works within a tight budget but also a tight site to create a building that is larger than life.
In current times when buildings thrive on sensationalism, it is highly commendable to see a community building based on rationalism and a sense of place-making. First of all, the planning of the complex takes its cue from the age-old adage of ‘less is more’. Obviously inspired by the great modernist thinking, Boon Gee laid out the floor plan almost in a no nonsense manner to clearly define the served and service space. The vertical circulation is celebrated to make ascending the building all the more a beautiful experience. The execution on plan is exquisite and excellent.
The glass boxes that project beyond the façade are somewhat playful. This is a departure from the rather strict disciplined approach to planning. This is not to be perceived as inconsistency but rather a need to change the perception of community library. Contrary to the traditional expectation of a library as ‘vault-like’ and unfriendly, the community library in Singapore must now be seen as a ‘happening place’ where the young and old are welcome to make it a place of learning and interaction. The transparent façade allows the views from the street into the innermost heart of the building.
Boon Gee defines the entire building as a tree house for learning and the hanging glass boxes as ‘pods’ - a quiet place for solace and reading. It is also likened to books pulled out of the shelves. Whatever the interpretation, the verdict is out: the pods are well-liked and they rekindle the cosiness that young minds crave for. It is hard to define if such architectonic expression is indeed mind-changing and heart-inspiring or it borders on stunning effects. What really matters is how well this building engages the imagination of the community it seeks to serve. From the way the youth laps up the building spaces, especially the pods, it is no doubt that community is endearing itself to the landmark.
It is heartening to see an architecture jewel stand out in the fast-congested heartland town centre. In the midst of loud commercial voices, Bishan Community Library is making all the right noises and striking the right chord with the community.
I hereby recommend Bishan Community Library to be considered favourably for President’s Design Award, Design of the Year Award.