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The book, the archive and architectural space

Part 2 Dissertation 2006
Elizabeth Jacobs
University of Greenwich London UK
I own two copies of the same book, Iain Sinclair’s Dining on Stones. Both books bring me pleasure, but for two very different reasons. The first, I purchased on the day of its release at a London bookshop where Sinclair was giving a reading. A year later, the paperback was released. The day I bought that book was the first day I read Dining on Stones. I never wanted to read the hardback. To me it was an item to place on my bookshelf and one that gave me pleasure just by seeing it there.
This anecdote frames the main discussion of the dissertation, that books are objects of powerful symbolism which can be exploited within architectural space. In drawing comparisons with the work of art, the special nature of the book as an object is clarified, although the inherent differences between the book and the work of art explain the difficulties of the ‘becoming object’ of the book.
The display of books as a collection plays a vital role in the meaning imparted to them and to the space they occupy and make. Jorge Luis Borges writes of the order of the universe as a library in his short story ‘The Library of Babel’, where he describes the display of the collection of books in a physical space that is constructed and defined by the books themselves. Rows upon rows of books in never-ending rooms upon rooms infuse this imaginary space with meaning.
The dissertation concludes with an analysis of the way in which architects have exploited the symbolism of the book to confer meaning and to manipulate a visitor’s emotional response to space. The projects for the Bibliotheque Nationale de France by Etienne-Louis Boullee and Dominique Perrault, though hundreds of years apart, both exploit the symbolism of the book in a very similar way, whilst OMA’s project for the Seattle Library uses a less literal form of representation, playing with the innate “moral goodness of the library … intimately connected to the value of the book.” (OMA, ‘Seattle Public Library Proposal’, http://www.spl.org, p.08)

Elizabeth Jacobs


An original and sensitive take on the book as object and as space making device, this dissertation is appropriately presented as a beautifully produced volume. Conveyed through rigorous referencing, educated speculative associations and personal input, the argument moves from the fascination with the making and ownership of the single object, to the array of the many, to the making of architectural space in relation to and by means of books. In parallel, the narrative moves from the very personal account of one’s possessive relationship with the book, to the construction of the collection, to the public symbolisms of the library.

2006
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