The Walls Which Shelter Letters

Ingrained culture, ideas, history, and life

The walls that shelter the letters are perhaps the space that has changed the most through time and culture. To speak of literature is undoubtedly to speak of books. That beautiful object of desire and greed! Irene Vallejo already says it in her well-known book: Infinity in a reed: the protection of knowledge throughout history has been accompanied by passion, robbery, looting and beautiful corridors illuminated by colored songs capable of attracting the most distant traveler. and to tempt the most thoroughgoing Puritan.

Ancient Library of Celcus. (credit : Pinterest).

The Library of Alexandria is the most famous place to have housed this desired object of knowledge and pleasure; This place is also perhaps the first to be a hybrid, because beyond protecting the memory and knowledge of the wisest, it was also a meeting place for intellectuals. Spaces at the service of knowledge and intellectual pleasure. To think of a space like Alexandria is to wrap oneself in a sensory atmosphere beyond what the space can offer visually: columns, floor finishes, galleries, statues, and large finishes on the ceilings that sheltered the books as a stellar mantle.

The hybridization of architectural designs and the world of literature

In classical times the hybridization of spaces related to literature was greater. Where knowledge was stored, tribute was also paid to the body, being a true delight for the soul. Massage rooms, gyms, gardens, eating spaces, bathrooms, reading rooms and conversation rooms, dialogued under one roof, protecting the precious shell of knowledge. The combination of these spaces is the closest prelude to the digital libraries that we now know. Have a more intimate contact between books and nature, body and text, soul and wisdom; They have been the richest spaces that have surrounded this precious object of whim.

Piazza Venezia. © Photograph by Kenneth Garrett, Nat Geo Image Collection/

Little by little, the book was transformed into the sheaf of sheets that we still feel today – erected by a plane that embraces it and in turn protects and decorates it. Just as his physical conception of this object changed, his spatial and shelter conception also evolved.

The Middle Ages was a period of great importance and relevance for the book and its architectural protection. It has been one of the periods that has accelerated the transmission of knowledge through books. Taking books out of monasteries has been one of the greatest acts of love towards written culture in general, because it represented a paradigm shift with respect to the idea of ​​a personal library. Unfortunately, this privilege only belonged to a few, because as sometimes still happens in the present, they are expensive objects that require a greater economic investment. Then came Gutenberg and the spread of written culture.

Coexistence in harmony, page upon page in a hallowing sound deflecting through the walls
Selexyz Dominicanen Bookstore, Maastricht, Netherlands. © Photographed by Roos Aldershoff.

The richest libraries in content were linked to universities. This combination of spaces is still a delight in the XXI century. The architectural design of the university library began as a space within a campus and expanded to create beautiful buildings excised from classroom corridors.

The National Libraries in homage to great thinkers with exquisite donations from writers, are created within museums, coexisting art and writing. Buildings that served as the houses of viceroys are now palaces that protect the beauty of typographical signs arranged under a protection that requires temperature and humidity control.

And the churches. Those mythical venues that synthesize music, painting and sculpture! They have changed their way of giving shelter to books. Initially, when its social function was still to give mass, the books it protected were theological, but in the 21st century we can enter churches whose social function has completely changed to a library.

In countries like Canada and the Netherlands, it is common to enter venues that remain intact over time, but inside, instead of benches stacked in a row, we find work tables and shelves illuminated with the color palette that the edges of books create. The hybridization of these spaces and concepts is beautiful because they abstract the purest concepts of the arts. 

The quest for knowledge, and the thirst to be quenched

The hybridization of spaces that give shelter to books has not only occurred in sacred precincts. Books have that power to join together and claim a decent space to live. As human beings thirsty for knowledge, we have created a favorite place to house them.

The nave of the East with its pointed arches. © Biblioteca de Catalunya.

In the housing typology of the 17th century it was common for architects to consider a space destined for their shelter. Unfortunately this occurred in people with a high purchasing power. As time passed, the spaces were reduced until the so-called “study or library” disappeared as an essential part of the architectural program. Currently the housing designs with the highest added value have a TV room but not a library space. However, it is a pleasure to know that people allocate a corner of their home to delight in the pleasure that comes from seeing the order of the books. Every personal library is a sacred space.

These little universe within the grasp of our hands

Each library is a cosmos; each planet a personal library; which under a certain order, laws and ecosystem coexist with different themes, authors and sizes. The planets, in turn, form galaxies determined by the social context, era and time. All the spaces in the world that shelter literature are like a galaxy: infinite, unknown, sublime.

The walls that have sheltered books have changed as the concept of a book has changed throughout history. We are still searching for the perfect combination of spaces for this beautiful object. Since its arrival in the world, the space that shelters the book has not been alone, it has coexisted with the corporalities and needs that the human being claims. The disappearance of the book have been theorized for so long, almost a several decades.

With the disappearance of the book, the spaces that welcome it would disappear. And by that, a myth would soon to be created. The myth of books. That sacred object of desire! I don’t think that moment will come; it is not possible for entire galaxies and cosmoses to disappear—referring to the metaphor with libraries—. On the contrary, the space that houses the books will grow and mutate, it will take on new forms and borrowed spaces, in one stage they will be museums, in another churches, in other factories and if necessary cemeteries.

Bibilioteca de las Escuelas Pías, en Lavapié. (credit : Pinterest).

Leave a Reply