Posts Tagged ‘books’

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Storytelling Sunday

September 29, 2019

“It’s what the story required.”  “It’s what the character had to do.”  “It’s the only way it could have gone.”  “It needed to happen.”

If you’re experiences are like mine then you are likely familiar with these types of answers from authors/creators when you ask them about elements in their stories, be it about events, outcomes, or, most often, what the story is about or is trying to say.  I’ve asked numerous authors on numerous occasions these types of questions, and responses in this vein, have always puzzled me.

Because… aren’t you the author?  How is it that it must go his way?  That this is the only way?

As the author, you’re the creator of everything!  From the most basic premise to the context in which things unfurl to the impetus that starts the action to the characters that inhabit the story, and so forth.  It’s all invented.  Tweak one little thing and everything beyond cascades and unfurls in a whole other way (or ways).

Corey Doctorow recently wrote an article about this, and regardless of whether one fully likes where he takes it or the examples he gives the main useful takeaway for me remains shining the spotlight on those seemingly inviolable constraints that force a story down a particular path to a particular ending to see that they are inherently part of the creation.  There is no “must” there.  It’s all (a) setup.

Now, every story contains a series of constraints and contrivances.  I’m not arguing against that.  (Though, and this is in a completely different vein than our main conversation here, but if your story uses a whole flock of vast contrivances and coincidences to move things along then I humbly suggest your story still needs a lot of work.)  What irks me about this type of response is not the mundane or pure logic about things, but rather that the author most likely has made these choices to set up the “inevitable” for a reason, and even if those reasons are hidden from their view by not answering the question they are not taking, or willing to take, ownership of the reasons.

Out of that I begin to wonder if they are trying to hide behind the supposed “objectivity” of things.  That is, they know what their story is conveying or is trying to say, but they are not willing to proudly stand behind it to hold aloft the concepts and explain why they set things up that way (and, by extension, declare what they’re trying to say).

Natch, it is also possible that they don’t know or didn’t think about it, in which case, fine, but still I’d invite that the better answer is “Huh, I don’t know!  That’s interesting, let’s talk about it and see what comes up…”

This is starting to sound a bit rant-y, so let me wrangle things back to say what I myself am trying to create here:  an invitation to look at and engage with your work more fully and recognize there is no inevitable, and to not hide behind feigned neutrality and pure calculus.  If your story conjures something up and you are asked about it, see if it was your intention.  If so, stand behind it and say what your story is saying.  If not, how fascinating!  And use that to further develop your craft.

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Architecture Monday

September 23, 2019

Get your travellin’ shoes on… to round out our little library tour tonight we’re going to start in Oslo and then hop on the overnight ferry to Copenhagen for a trio of wonderful book houses.

The main Oslo Public Library starts outside with a classic pediment nestled within a larger, more stripped-down yet still neoclassical edifice.  (And I do like the little string of festive lights!)

Where upon entering you are guided to this large open hall, bathed by an immense skylight and dominated (in a good way) by the expressive mural.  Like the exterior, it’s a great mix of the classical, in the form of colonnaded hall, and the cleaner forms of early modernism (it reminds me in many ways of the work of Adolf Loos, who was active at the time of construction).

I really like how this mix plays out in the antechamber, with the classic ionic columns supporting a mezzanine that overlooks the main book hall, provides access to an exterior balcony, and also has that great serrated desk surrounding the atrium opening.  Wonderful design.  As a fun aside, it is nicknamed the “House of Stairs” in honour of its many, many staircases.

For its counterpart at the Copenhagen Main Library we have this inviting atrium that features these playful seating and reading cubbies that stick out into the four-story high space.  Very nifty.

The Royal Library now consists of two buildings, the older and the new, split by a road yet spanned by bridges.  From the modern entry atrium, you cross through the old archways to enter the historical wing.  (Which, itself, was many years ago the ‘new’ library to replace one that sat where the new-new library wing now sits…)

Not much to say other than lovely!  The smooth white plaster archways are wonderful and also work as a great backdrop for the richness and ornateness of the desks, shelves, windows, and light fixtures, not to mention the classical Corinthian capitals and dark stone.

The new atrium has this great commanding view of the waterfront as you exit.

Lastly, here’s an architecture and design library we stumbled upon!  I’m on an architecture trip; there was no way I was not going to check it out.  A repurposed (adaptive reuse!) warehouse/commercial building along the waterfront, the exposed structure and windows with the hundred little window panes works supremely well.

And there we have it.  As I traveled throughout from country to country I really got the sense that libraries — and books in general, for there were many bookstores as well — hold a high place in people’s minds, being well regarded and considered an important part of the social fabric.  With that reverence comes the desire to make them accessible, available, and to celebrate what they are and what they represent, leading to these great spaces for learning, reading, gathering, and creating community.

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Architecture Monday

September 16, 2019

The library train continues!  And what’s this, combining books and adaptive reuse, two of my favorite things, together?  Yes indeed!

Housed in a former tram (streetcar) maintenance sheds, the library takes full advantage of the old tramway doors to craft huge windows with giant shutters that playfully incorporate a bookshelf motif when open.

Inside, the space is kept wide open, punctuated only by furniture (including the bookshelves with colourful seating/desks), and a mezzanine against the great exposed brick wall that itself nestles a kid’s corner that rises like a boxy mountain.

Nicely, the library expands outward into an adjacent café, which itself is adjacent to a sports complex that occupies the rest of the repair shed.  Even there, books (and games) abound!

Altogether forming a wicked community hub, this is one great bit of adaptive reuse, keeping the history and aged ruggedness of the old shed and marrying it with an airy comfort.  I liked it a bunch, if I lived nearby I’d be there often for sure.  Nicely done.

The Norrebro Bibliotek

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Architecture Monday

September 9, 2019

Let us step backwards in time tonight and enter the National Library of Finland.  Standing directly opposite the grand Helsinki Cathedral, it’s stateliness and position are a testament to the importance of knowledge and books to the Finnish people.

The main hall was built between 1840-1845, and, quite frankly, stately may well be an understatement.  Rife with classical details from floor to column to ceiling to dome, there is no doubt that this is a hallowed place for the books that encircle the room.  Every direction you look is a rich tapestry of colour, texture, and form.

The rotunda, built between 1902-1906, is more spare but no less impressive.  Reminding me a bit of the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, the radial rows of books climb balcony by balcony towards the large skylight overhead.  I love the difference between it and the main hall, showcasing the newer motifs of its day with highly artful and expressive cast iron  columns, railings, and details,  not to mention the skylight, reminiscent of the Crystal Palace from the Great Exhibition of 1851.

And to cap it off, the side/secondary reading rooms just keep that grandness going strong.

For the nation’s archives and repository of its cultural record, there is nothing sad about this building at all;  it is fitting and mighty fine.  Here are a couple of 360~ views!  One in the main hall, and one in the rotunda.

The National Library of Finland by C L Engel, Gustaf Nyström, and others.

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Architecture Monday

September 2, 2019

Let us slide over tonight to Stockholm for another library, the Stadsbibliotek.  Instantly recognizable, it was built in 1928, making it much older than the Helsinki library from last week.  But it is still an unabashedly modern design.

A stripped-down take on the classical orders, the building is, essentially, a cylinder emerging from a box.  While the first half of the base is clad in a brick-like pattern with expressive entryways, the top of the box and the cylinder itself are plastered in a deep and striking orange, displaying the formal purity for the world to see.

Passing inside, you emerge from a narrow staircase into a celebration of books. In the round, rising for three stories, are books, books, and more books, with the room continuing to soar further overhead where punched windows let light rain in from above.

Surrounded by the rich wood and colourful spines, it’s quite the experience.  Here are a couple of 360~ views so you can look all around: a view from the ground floor near the entry, and a view from the top balcony.

A classic building that has more than stood the test of time.  Well worth seeing.

The Stadsbibliotek by Gunnar Asplund

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Wonder Wednesday

August 28, 2019

Seemingly random Tintin artwork in the public/playground/community area under an apartment building!  Very cool.

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Architecture Monday

August 26, 2019

And like that I’m back from a vacation to the Nordic countries that was, as my vacations often are, heavily aimed towards architectural visiting.  So many buildings!  And plenty to share in the coming weeks.  Hard to know where to begin, and so with no reason other than it jumped into my head let’s start with the new Helsinki Central Library.

There’s lots to love here.  Sinuous and sensual, the curving wood exterior forms an inviting covered entry, while the iceberg-like glass box that rests on top hints at the reading room to come.  The curving wood continues to play around once inside on the ground floor, carving out spaces for the café and several gathering spaces.

Moving up one floor on the central staircase leads you to this amazing project area, with raked seating for work on your laptop and access to a maker space with sewing machines, 3D printers, video editing computers, cutting mats, power tools, and all sorts of other goodies, all nestled among wood-covered diagonal bracing.  (I took a 360~ photo from the start of the project/maker space, you can view it here)

The top floor is where the books live, and yeah, it’s quite something.  With the ceiling floating overhead like an undulating cloud the rows of books (and trees!) extend in both directions towards each end of the building.  There, the floors rise up like a landmass, housing a reading room at one end and the children’s area in the other.  Should all the glass makes you feel like going outside, you can, onto a large balcony that overlooks the city.

A wonderful new library and community hub, purposefully set opposite the Finnish parliament building to emphasize the relationship between governance and active learning, freedom of expression, and citizenship.  And beyond books the library seizes new roles with the maker spaces, classrooms, theatres, and more.  Great stuff.

Oodi Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects