It’s a pleasure to finally hold a copy of this new book I photographed about the expansion of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Here the Russian practice Studio 44 Architects have converted the east wing of what was originally the General Staff Building. This neoclassical masterpiece by Carlo Rossi lies across Palace Square from the Winter Palace and curves around to define the semi-circular form of the square. Studio 44 have re-established Rossi’s orginal design principle by establishing an enfilade through the internal courtyard along a new a monumental concrete raised walkway mounted by dramatic staircases at either end. On either side the walkway connects through to both refurbished interiors and a series of new gallery spaces.
This was a lovely project to work on – a truly international collaboration. I shot it in July 2014 working directly with the lead architect and book’s primary author, Oleg Yawein. But I’d already been lucky enough to discuss the project first with Thames & Hudson in London and then with Hans Ebelings in Montreal earlier in the year. Hans had been involved in the book since it’s inception and wrote an essay for it – ‘Nature and Nuture of a Building.’ Other architectural luminaries also contributed text: Aaron Betsky, Dimitry Shividkovsky & Yulia Revzina and Rem Koolhaas, as did the museum’s director, Mikhail Piotrovsky.
‘The Library – a world history’ was to some extent a victim of it’s own success selling out online in both the UK and US before the beginning of December. We may have missed a few Christmas stockings last year but Thames & Hudson and University of Chicago Press have been busy reprinting and now it’s available. There is also one unheralded advantage to getting the book second time around in that it is eight pages longer and features two additional Mexican libraries. These were specifically shot for the Spanish language edition published by Nerea.
The first is the Biblioteca Palafoxiana (1772-5) in Puebla which makes an interesting comparison of Latin American Baroque with the Roman Baroque libraries that are already in the book – Biblioteca Casantense (1719) and Biblioteca Angelica (1765). It’s peculiar because the galleries sit on and are supported by the lower book cases.
The second addition is Alberto Kalach’s amazing design for Mexico City’s Jose Vasconcelos Library (2006) where all the book shelves are hung from the ceiling. Despite the mass of concrete above it’s designed as a series of arches with the Mexican sun pouring in between them allowing the space to feel both bunker-like and expansive. The centrepiece is Gabriel Orozo’s sculpture ‘whale.’
Kalash’s central ‘nave’ above Orozo’s sculpture
In a book of over eighty libraries these two constitute a minor footnote but they seem to complete the project in a satisfying way. The first illustrating the grand dissemination of Catholic baroque, the second the industrial scale demanded by today’s libraries.