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National Library of Singapore

Part 2 Project 1999
Jacks Yeo
National University of Singapore | Singapore
The National Library Board has set a design brief for the new “National Library of Singapore”. The building is destined to be a national icon.
Will one “monumental” story instigate national pride, or will little tales be more endearing?
Singapore is a green city; an artificial green that has subverted what is nature and became natural. No one notices the difference. The project ParkLibrary / LibraryPark tries to reclaim the green park it displaced by setting up the conditions for “green” encounters, poking at the difference, hoping to construct “new” knowledge. Other little tales are told in the same spirit.
The business library masquerades with a mini-golf course, an information exchange venue for the golfer-businessmen (synonymous in Singapore). Here, nature, in the form of sandpits, water bodies and bushes, is presented as hazardous. But that is not the point.
One can be reading in “hole nineteen”, reading in the park, in the toilet, on the train, or reading on line, reading anywhere. As a facilitator of knowledge transfer and production, the library has no boundary. The library becomes the city as the city becomes the library.
The library is not a destination. It is a route. The volumes of books become symbolic to its presence.

Understated are the aims to think otherwise and to communicate this “other thinking”.

Jacks Yeo

The project is based on a real competition brief for the new National Library of Singapore. The site is a present green space once part of the North Bridge Road two storeys shophouse economy. The present area is in a state of flux with international business (Raffles Hotel and the giant Bugis Shopping Mall as two examples) establishing interests and intermixing with much of the local economy. The Library is therefore another attempt by the Government to strengthen the “downtown core” and civic aspects of the city eastwards towards the Bugis area. The Bugis area has been zoned and being designated as the entertainment hub for Singapore.

The Scheme has several narratives. As much as the scheme is a national library, it also serves to do several other things. It is a civic connector providing connections via the ground and the basement to the many diverse groups of people from the Mass Rapid Transit station to their final designations within the Bugis area and vice versa.

The project hopes to be a “park”; a substitute to the one that it has displaced. But more than that, given Singapore’s tropical climate, the proposed space attempts to be part of a system of green spaces within the city. Taking a fold from a leaf of a book, the present green space is metaphorically peeled off from the ground to fold and together with basement form a great anonymous space below and a green space immediately above it. The anonymous space, a result of the fold and basement is a large container designed more like a cafeteria than a celebrated space, is to become in the scheme the great reference library and lending section. Here, every user accessing the library must pass and inevitably partake in a visual exchange quite unlike similar spaces found in other national libraries.

The project also hopes to negate the monumentality embodied in such a scheme. The scheme can be described as “banal” in all its approaches. The geometry and materials used speak of a transparency which serves not to represent but to present the facts and the “contained” as they are. Here, Labrouste’s Bibliotheque is now being supplanted by Victor Hugo’s disembodiment of architecture.

• Page Hits: 7477         • Entry Date: 08 January 1999         • Last Update: 10 May 2001