Out in Mexico City: Biblioteca Vasconcelos

8.19.2013

By Jerry Portwood

This library in the heart of the city evokes the magic found in books and knowledge

This is my second trip to Mexico City, but I'm still finding so many new things to discover, and the energy . While Reforma was blocked off today for both a running event and Sunday cyclists (to the consternation of cars and everyone hoping to avoid the inevitable traffic that everyone battles during the weekdays), it didn't stop my friend Cristina from ferrying me around to see some of the highlights on my must-see list. After a shopping trip to the tianguis of La Lagunilla for a bit of flea market shopping, we headed to the Biblioteca Vasconcelos. While the building designed by Alberto Kalach was mired in controversy due to local politics and construction delays, I had seen the incredible images of the "hanging shelves" of the spectacular piece of contemporary architecture and didn't want to miss it for myself. And it didn't disappoint.

It reminded me of whimsical accounts of enchanted libraries I read about as a child when I was obsessed with fantasy novels and imagined my own perfect library where I could live and be forever sustained, one where desired tomes flew from shelves to my hands and I could wander endlessly. Although one must climb stairs or push elevator buttons to be whisked to the many levels, there was a hushed brilliance to the space. Unfortunately, it seemed that books are not, in fact, the point to this building—many of the books are displayed as multiple copies—and seem to be there to fill the space, rather than actually to be read. 

The hanging sculpture by Gabriel Orozco, "Mobile Matrix," added a rarefied, museum-like quality to the space. But then again, most libraries I've visited in recent years feel like cluttered community centers for the needy rather than hallowed repositories of knowledge and learning. To experience that in a contemporary building, one imbued with so much beauty and elegance—its gorgeous finishes and materials both austere and lush—felt like a special opportunity that I haven't found many places in the world. It's at the top of my list of places not to miss in Mexico City. But it wasn't the end of my day-long adventure with art and architecture: To Be Continued.

Watch a clip about the sculpture below:

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