The Library of Babel

Submitted by LYN RICE

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Client: Design Observer

Location: New York, USA

Completion date: 2013

Project Team

Architect

Lyn Rice

Rice+Lipka Architects

Architect

Andrew Bernheimer

Bernheimer Architecture

Architect

Sunil Bald

Studio SUMO

Overview

As part of the curated series, Fairy Tale Architecture, Rice Lipka's project explores the relationship of Borges' The Library of Babel and architecture. We are simply fascinated with the story – with the breadth of possible architectural outcomes given the specificity of Borges’ description of the library, with the notion that all the books that could ever be written would be accessible (essentially providing access to future knowledge), and with its prediction of our contemporary condition of living with overwhelming access to information.

Goals

As a cultural research project, R L's goal was to both examine the text and document details faithfully, and to propose, in a speculative way, specific architectural scenarios illustrating precisely what is not defined in the story. The modest scale of the individual hexagonal library unit gave us an illusionary sense of personal scale and intimacy that seemed to us both reasonable and understandable. At the scale of the individual unit or unit cluster, it is easy to imagine, yet by extending it to a fraction of the size Borges’ story suggests, we bumped up against magical glitches in the story.

As the extent of the conceit unfolds, the library's impenetrability becomes clear and the illusion that all knowledge is somehow close at hand slips away. It was fascinating to analyze the text and mine it for the real, the everyday, the architectural givens of the tale and at the same time search the story for what is not prescribed. We both took care to not veer from the specific descriptions of the spaces and their relationships, and guarded against our own assumptions in order to find holes in the story - its openings for interpretation.

Process

Collaboration in the Fairy Tale Architecture project manifests itself throughout the pre-design and drawing process; contributors work with the curators (most closely with the scholar/writer) during the story selection process and concurrently during design and delineation. Cross-disciplinarily this project connects architecture with critical literary theory in atypical and deeply collaborative fashion, demanding architects work with writers (both past and present) to more physically delineate spaces of fiction and the printed word through inventive architectural representations.

Created for the online magazine Design Observer, the Fairy Tale Architecture series is curated by author and editor Kate Bernheimer and Andrew Bernheimer (also one of the architects illustrating a tale). The current series includes:

The Juniper Tree, The Brothers Grimm, interpreted by Andrew Bernheimer.

The Library of Babel, Jorge Luis Borges, interpreted by Rice Lipka Architects.

Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky, African folktale, interpreted by Studio SUMO.

(The Juniper Tree and Why the Sun…will be submitted separately, though we would like to have them considered as a single project).

Additional Information

Fairy Tale Architecture has produced a collection of architectural documents wherein designers envisioned the spaces of seminal and obscure stories (including Jack and the Beanstalk, Baba Yaga, amongst others), within this specific literary typology. The curators of this series are a world-renowned scholar of fairy tales (who is also an accomplished fiction writer and editor) and a practicing architect (who also works in architectural education). The two additional collaborating design teams include architects (Rice Lipka is one), many of whom also teach at the college or graduate level and are instrumental in furthering architectural pedagogy.