Architecture for culture


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Deusto University Library

José Rafael Moneo, arquitecto

Description Technical file

The difficult project exercise represented by taking up a position in a spot where the existing buildings of highly varying characteristics, both typological and qualitative, powerfully condition the taking of decisions, has here been addressed with the author's characteristic mastery within a highly sensitive urban framework.

The buildings of Deusto University have always played a fundamental role in the configuration of the estuary's left bank, thus testifying to the will to service that the institution always had towards the city: for over a hundred years Deusto has been not only the cradle of numerous Bilbao professionals but also a unique protagonist of the city's cultural life; hence the unsurprising importance that Deusto's buildings have in the environment of the estuary.

Though the location of the site and the urbanistic configuration may appear to be favourable, the truth is that the ambivalence between the dimensions of a block and the dimensions of a freestanding building do not make for an easy project. If to this we add the imposing presence of the Guggenheim, we can understand the difficulties that have beset the architect. On one hand, the new building must in no way compete with the well-earned protagonist role that the Guggenheim has. On the other, the building must display its public condition and establish insofar as possible a desirable continuity with the university. Neither conditioning factor, naturally, must exclude the fact that the building should be understood as freestanding and with its own life within the park.

These premises were what finally made the architect choose a material such as glass brick, which implies a pliable condition in the treatment of the walls and which was desirable to prevent any competition with the Guggenheim and to soften the meeting point with the park. The glass bricks give rise to a monolithic and monochrome, neutral volume that does not compete with the titanium dazzle of the Guggenheim and is capable of seamlessly integrating into the future green universe of the park.

Perhaps the most important architectural feature of the building are its rounded corners, which lead us to view it as an independent and autonomous solid. These rounded corners, moreover, have allowed the application to them of greater geometric toughness, eroding them by means of orthogonal facets that produce a vivid contrast with the translucent glass bricks given their transparent condition. If to this we add the attractive lantern-like look it acquires at dusk, when the Guggenheim only shows itself through its gaps, we can understand that the architect has been seduced by the potential of glass bricks. The library is thus a translucent solid but the distance established between the Gugghenheim and the library after the choice of this material is reduced when we consider how much the museum has been present when it came to defining the orientation of the library. In effect, and as will be obvious to anyone who studies the floor plans, the library is subtly oriented towards the Guggenheim, showing due respect to it through the reading rooms oriented towards and featuring as a backdrop to their geometry the vivid volumetry of the museum.

This orientation, moreover, is also revealed in the position of the courtyard. As far as we can understand the courtyard, which reinforces the public condition of the space it generates, helps to establish a permanently living connection with the park; hence we could say that we would feel satisfied if the library could be viewed as just another element in the park.

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Autor del proyecto: José Rafael Moneo, arquitecto. Promotor: Universidad de Deusto. Colaboradores: Valerio Canals Revilla, arquitecto a cargo del proyecto, Santiago de Molina, Alberto Brito, José Ortiz, Angela Pang, Gabriel Fernandez-Abascal y Alberto Montesinos. Estructura: NB 35, Jesús Jiménez Cañas. Instalaciones: PGI, Ingeniería. Maquetistas: Estudio Rafael Moneo, Juan de Dios Hernández y Jesús Rey. Fotografía: Roland Halbe.
Rafael Moneo
Roland Halbe
Stuttgart, Alemania