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Italy’s forgotten Library – The Reading Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze

Part 2 Project 2011
Ashley Clayton
De Montfort University, UK

The Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, Italy is one of two national libraries, along with the National Library in Rome. The library was founded in 1714 when Antonio Magliabechi, a famous Italian scholar, bequeathed his entire collection of books, encompassing approximately 30,000 volumes, to the city of Florence. Since 1870, the library has collected copies of all Italian publications. Since 1935, the collections have been housed in the current library building, designed by Cesare Bazzaniu and V. Mazzei, located along the Arno River adjacent to the Basilica di Santa Crocé. Before this, they were found in various rooms belonging to the Uffizi Gallery.

Today the Library stands almost forgotten by the wider Italian community, under-funded, poorly maintained and massively behind the times. The National library is a fine example of neo-classicism, however its huge proportions and cold, airy interiors are uninviting and many academics and students have voiced their concerns and disapproval of the un-refurbished, ill equipped library. Reacting to this, the proposed extensions and alterations aim to re-ignite the relationship between the old library and its community. A new major extension to the north-wing of the existing will provide a range of inviting and contemporary reading rooms. Importantly the new extension is centrally focused, across both floors, by two spaces; a new community library and above it a new grand hall – for functions and meeting. As well as reading spaces, the proposed will include other facilities such as teaching rooms, group and solo study spaces, all of which centre around the large new central hall. New contemporary libraries are buildings that combine many new technologies, aiming to provide a wide range of facilities, the proposed harnesses the use of new technologies by presenting these to the occupant within a building of intense spatial character and atmosphere.

The project aims to re-establish the old library as a national centre of learning. The proposed building addresses the culturally enhancing need to reconnect the community with its historical texts through a range of reading spaces that allow people to simply sit and read or study within a group. With carefully incorporated reading gardens that are filled with shaded seating and fragrant fruit trees, the project aims to reconnect the visitors with the ancient Italian tradition of outdoor study.

Ashley Clayton


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