Saturday, 26 March 2011

Underground Building Design

Since I am designing a subterranean library in my design work, I felt it necessary to look at precedent studies of other libraries and similar buildings (archives/storage) that also sit underground. Subterranean library depositories are quite common, the book lists Harvard University Library (below), Minneapolis Public Library, Cornell University Library (New York, below), Michigan University Library (the book is American) and so on. The main book depository for Cambridge University neighbouring my site is also underground. I hope to create a tunnel/passage between my map depository and the existing book depository at the library. 

Nathan Marsh Pusey Library (Harvard), Massachusetts 

Cornell University Library, New York

There are immediate advantages and disadvantages to building underground, environmental, psychological and physiological. All three I feel are important to my scheme:

The main advantage seems to be minimal visible impact on site. Depositories are huge buildings, that would only be warehouses if built above ground. On a site next to a grade 1 listed building (Cambridge University Library) I wanted to minimise the impact. Another is that libraries are public buildings, therefore require public space around them. By building the majority of the structure underground, this will in theory create a large space above ground for the public. 

The environmental benefits are particularly important to my design, the main one being that it is easier to achieve climate controlled conditions underground. Energy use, reduced heat gain and heat loss due to the thermal massing of the ground surrounding the site, isolation from noise and vibration, fire protection, security and maintenance are all associated with being positive for a building underground. 

The psychological considerations, however, I find much more interesting. 

Lack of natural light, lack of views, claustrophobia and disorientation are the common arguments against building underground. But since my building is based on disorientating people, is based on labyrinths, on the exploration into the unknown (i.e. cartography, map making) then I do not see disorientation as a negative effect. In fact I see it as positive feature, adding to the exploration of the archives and my initial design concepts. 

Another thing I find interesting is the perceived psychological effects underground:

"Users of windowless or underground buildings often complain of poor temperature and humidity control and a lack of ventilation or stuffiness. Generally, none of the problems should be any different for a below-grade or windowless building than they are for a sealed, climate-controlled conventional building. Thus, in addition to the actual ventilation air change rate provided, perception of ventilation by occupants is important. If awareness of the superior internal environment control of an underground building is clearly apparent to the occupants, some offsetting positive attitudes may develop."

The corridors in my design are most closely associated with 'B: Atrium' below. The links to the surface, the light pipes and wind catchers may help reinforce this positive environmental viewpoint to users of the building.

The image below is the Civil and Mineral Engineering Building at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Aside from being a beautifully detailed sectional perspective (something I plan to do at the end of this project) it seems like the most appropriate building use for a mainly subterranean building because of its purpose.

People tend to feel that underground building types are okay for certain uses, for instance an underground building would be unsuitable for perhaps an office or house, whereas storage, archives, even restaurants may be more suitable to be built below ground level. i.e. People need a good reason to go underground in the first place. 

People tend to fear going underground because they associate it with nuclear bunkers, with collapsing coal mines... undesirable places. So by clearly promoting the positive characteristics of subterranean design, I think I could help achieve the trust of potential users of the map depository.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Library of Babel Pin Up

For my pin up I have condensed all of my research into a few sheets of A1, starting off with a sectional perspective sketchup image showing the hexagrids:

There are no books on this render because my computer could not cope with all the data passing through it if each hexagon contained hundreds of books.

The next image shows how the vertical circulation is connected by triangular geometry. There are 6 points of direction from each hexagon containing a staircase, and only 2 points of direction from each gallery:

I then created a sketchup file showing books on the top layer of hexagons, 35 on each shelf, 5 shelves on four sides of the hexagon (in keeping with the book):

For my final drawing in plan I used my sketch in my previous blog entry to produce this perspective drawing showing the layout of one of the hexagons. I have designed it so that it contains the basic necessities for human survival. There are two compartments either sides of one of the passageways into neighbouring hexagons; one for the librarian to sleep upright, and the other containing a latrine (WC). There is no open space anywhere in the gallery, just narrow corridors, in this case travelling around a void where so many librarians have jumped to their death.

The reading table is positioned so that the librarian can see books on one side of their periphery, and the grim sound of falling bones and decomposing bodies on the other. The cramped/narrowness of the spaces only adds to the suicide rate of the librarians, which the book is so keen to describe.

I produced a section to the reading tables and the librarian looking down into the central void, watching a skeleton fall past, who would have been falling down the infinite hole for months. Pulmonary is a common cause of death in the library because there is no natural ventilation to oppress the odour of bodies falling past. The dust of decomposing bones is inhaled by the librarians... the smell of death is always around them.

My next two images show two perspectives of the interior of the library. The uniformness of the books adds to the feeling of infinity, and have equal appeal to librarians who are so desperately searching for the divine knowledge, or even a library catalogue. I experimented with a combination of sketching and Photoshopping to create these images:

It was hard reading the brief and then reading The Library of Babel. The brief was tailored to existing, real-world libraries, questioning neighbouring buildings, natural light, context and design principles, none of which applied in my case study. I did however research possible materiality for the library.

Graphene, when folded over, creates carbon nanotubes, which is the strongest known substance in the universe, seemingly perfect for creating an infinitely tall (and structurally sound) library. On a molecular level, graphene is also composed of hexagrids, so this ties in with the infinite floor plans of a much larger scale.

Carbon Nanotube (folded graphene)

However the book does mention that the library is built in another universe, where another stronger material may well exist.

For this pin-up I taught myself how to use Adobe Indesign, a piece of software which I found very intuitive and immediately helpful when it came to positioning text and images in grids/guides:

With everyone in the group using the same Indesign guides, the plan is that every student's case study will be quickly assembled into a book and/or an online document for us all to refer to, so we have numerous case studies of libraries to help our studies.

Library of Babel (further research)

For case study help I bought Jorge Luis Borges' book, Labyrinths, which contains the short story/description of The Library of Babel; which I really enjoyed reading. The translated (from Spanish) book comes across as autobiographical, and describes the most interesting and macabre of places in such a simple way that it is easy to forget it is fiction at all:

I look forward to reading the other short stories when I have written this blog entry.

I made a few sketches of the shapes hexagons create, and how these shapes could be used in the context of circulation throughout the library:

I then looked at how each hexagon could be organised into a series of smaller internal hexagons describing the different functions:

Moving away from floor plans, I drew these basic section diagrams to show the tiny compartments that flank the infinite voids. The voids are full with dust from decomposed bodies who have been falling from so far up. Every so often a librarian would see a skeleton fall past him/her as they continued to read endless books of gibberish:

The lights are described in the books as 'spherical fruits', and I have positioned these over the reading tables, of which there is one per hexagon, per librarian

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Making sense of the Library of Babel

I started by building a 3D virtual model of the library. No modelling software or computer could deal with infinite hexagons so I have been selectively editing these images to make them appear infinite. The first view is a section cut looking down the infinite voids within each hexagon.

The second image shows the vast expanse of hexagons all connecting to each other - this is the basic geometry, I have included no detail at this stage:

I then built the hexagonal libraries 2-dimensionally to diagram the spaces in each gallery:

The first diagram shows, in orange, the infinite circulation through the library.

The diagram above shows the infinite load bearing walls (in grey) between each hexagon.

The blue below illustrates the placement of the bookcases, but it unintentionally also manages to show clearly the routes between the rooms, showing how they are straight routes between the spiral staircases.

The image above shows the voids, the 'ventilation' shafts where librarians ultimately jump into after reading so many books of pure gibberish.

The next image shows the floor plan made up of shapes other than hexagons. This three sided, forked shape appears all over the floorplan, but our eyes usually adjust to the hexagon shapes rather than the shapes in between.

This last diagram shows the infinite spiral staircases in every 6th room, connecting each level. The lines between show the geometry of triangles between these vertical circulation spaces. I imagine librarians walking up or down these stairs trying to find an end to their universe, which of course they never will on an infinite staircase.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Jorge Luis Borges - The Library of Babel

I've been puzzling the architecture of Borges' Library of Babel all day, as I am doing a presentation on it in a week.

The mythical/fictional library is made up identical hexagonal galleries, connected to infinite other hexagonal galleries in the X, Y & Z axis. In the centre of each gallery is a ventilation shaft surrounded by a low handrail, so librarians looking up the void can see infinite stories/layers of identical book shelves.

The books in the library each contain a randomly assembled jumble of letters and punctuation, so of course the majority of works are pure gibberish; but (as the infinite monkey theorem goes) 'give a monkey a typewriter and an infinite amount of time and he'll type the entire works of Shakespeare'. This principle is applied (multiplied) even further so that in this infinitely large library contains all the coherent books ever written and all the books that will be written in future.

"When I am dead, compassionate hands will throw me over the railing; my tomb will be the unfathomable air, my body will sink for ages, and will decay and dissolve in the wind engendered by my fall, which shall be infinite"

Decomposing bodies fall for an infinite amount of time, falling past melancholic librarians desiring the divine knowledge, to know everything. These librarians hear nothing but the clutter of bones of librarians who have died or committed suicide, falling from the stories above.

Librarians are in a state of suicidal despair, as most of the books are completely useless. As librarians go about destroying the useless books, many seek the holy grail of the library: the perfect library catalogue. It must of course be somewhere in the library. Some librarians believe others have read it (in an infinite amount of time, somebody must have), so enter inevitable conversations with other librarians asking if they have read it, or have met anyone who has read it. Some believe that the librarian who has found the book walks around with it, others think the book might have been thrown down the shaft so no others find it.

Floor to ceiling bookcases are hardly taller than the librarians that wander around the library. Toilets, food and spaces for librarians to sleep standing up are located in each hexagon. In every sixth hexagon is a spiral staircase, infinitely tall, where librarians can walk between different levels. Two artificial lights light each hexagon.

However none of the artwork I have found seems to meet the description of each space. In the image below, the lights block the ventilation shafts, meaning librarians who fall down the shaft are stopped by the lighting frames. The lights would have to be offset from the 'ventilation' in the centre. It also shows voids in between every few hexagons, but the only voids are the voids within the hexagons.

In the next image the floor to ceiling height looks multiple times higher than the height of a librarian. The huge scale however does convey a sense of infinity - of course space shouldn't be a problem in an infinite sized building... but the text does imply that the verticality of each floor height is very low:

'hardly greater than the height of a normal librarian'

The low, foreboding ceiling height may add to the suicide rate of the librarians.

With infinite books comes infinite enlightenment, the library catalogue could be in any room in the library, but of course an infinite number of similar books could be written, false books, lies or slight word changes meaning that the library catalog would have to be coherent and true in every word or else it would be meaningless. But who would really know if they were reading a genuine library catalogue?

For part of my library study for my design project, I need to create parti diagrams, plans and sections of the spaces, environmental considerations (really) and underlying concepts and design principles regarding the building. I was the only person to choose a mythical library (out of a list of numerous built or proposed libraries) for this study so I will have to create these images myself. I chose this 'building' study to be a bit different, and it's already working.