The word 'library' usually produces a serious vibe, conjuring in our minds the image of an array of books kept in rows on dark gothic wooden shelves and serious-looking librarians, seated on a platform, always telling you to maintain silence.
But this idea has changed tremendously over the last few years, at least among architects worldwide.
These days, while designing libraries, modern architecture focuses more on the concept of 'connection' rather than 'collection'.
And that is exactly what we found at the e-library of the Faculty of Business Studies (FBS) at the University of Dhaka.
This project fundamentally involved working on an existing structure to create a new e-library for the students of business studies.
SthaNiK Architectural Consultants, an architecture firm based in Dhaka, rebuilt the 4,000 sq ft library in 2015. The lead architects were Saiqa Iqbal Meghna and Suvro Sovon Chowdhury. Telecom company Robi was the project's sponsor.
The library is located on the second floor of a 12,000 sq ft rectangular building, surrounded by the faculty premise and a lot of greenery.
It has seating arrangements for more than 400 students. 24 staff work in three shifts and there are 76 computers and more than 10,000 books and journals for students.
The library area houses a teacher's lounge, librarian's office, officers' room, group discussion centre and a coffee corner.
How it was done
According to the architects, when handed the task to renovate it, they decided to improvise on the already existing library of the Faculty of Business Studies.
While doing so, their main idea was to hold on to the very essence of 'contemporary', which is deeply rooted in the core idea of the building itself, an architectural masterpiece by Sthapatyacharya Muzharul Islam, regarded as the Father of Modern Architecture of Bangladesh.
Inside the masterwork of Architect Islam, the task was to extend and transform the existing library into an e-library.
The core design concept was to create an open space and accommodate the contemporary library's evolving requirements over time.
But how could the library be transformed from a serious figure to a new, open and attractive public space, that too without distorting the existing building structure?
Previously it was a 2,000 sq ft library adjacent to a teacher's room. Inside the library, the walls and narrow windows did not allow occupants a view of the surrounding areas. The library had become a storeroom filled with books.
The architects decided to create an 'open library'; they tore down the walls dividing the library and the adjacent teacher's room. To bring light into the library, the architects used transparent glass windows. The architects used narrow horizontal grill bars on the windows that create an impact of blinds on the windows.
The team used white, beige and ivory as primary colours with a pop of red and black in the chairs and seating areas.
An internal staircase, previously separated by blank walls, was transformed into a decorative glass box. This ensured that an interior of small compartmental spaces was transformed into a continuous fluid space.
Large continuous open spaces were introduced throughout the 206-foot length of the floor, spanning from the west to east.
In the middle of the entire platform, the architects used the double-height space and installed a bright red, floating mezzanine floor.
The mezzanine holds the information and issue-counter on the lower level and a silent reading area on the upper level for the teachers. The issue-counter used to be open, but due to the pandemic, the area has been covered with transparent PVC sheets.
The red steps leading towards the upper level have been turned into an informal reading area. Students generally love to sit here in a relaxed mood while browsing through a journal, or even fidgeting with their phones.
Perforated metal sheets have been used as railings on the red stairs.
The 'Trimmed Egg' shaped space, in front of the red steps, holds the journal shelves and reading tables. Its trimmed structure increases fluidity by changing the geometry of the space.
There is a large window on the west with white grills through which the greenery is visible.
The librarian's office and the other staff's offices are situated inside patterned glass boxes.
The northern entryway, made with metal sheets etched with the Faculty of Business Studies history, leads to a bright fluid space inside. The modular design of the furniture ensures maximum openness.
The ceiling of the library is designed using light materials like metal mesh and whiteboards, to enhance the exposed beam-column structures.
The ceiling over the trimmed egg and stepped reading area has diagonal lines and lights in random directions to unravel the zones into multidirectional openness.
The problems faced by users
It has been five years since the library started operating. Over these years, some problems have developed.
For example, the board ceiling over the bookshelf area has already cracked and in some places, the ceiling has gone damp with water leakage.
However, the architects think that it's the responsibility of the library authorities to take care of the renovation if needed.
One staff member, on condition of anonymity, told us that the book issue area is always open. As a result, students sometimes try to take books off the shelves without informing the staff.
The books are organised in trolley shelves stacked parallelly, which saves a lot of space. However, the staff find the shelves pretty difficult to pull out. The librarian Ferdousi Begum said, "One single shelf contains hundreds of books, which makes it extremely heavy to pull."