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Architectural Spotlight

The New Library of Alexandria


The city of Alexandria in Egypt has long held a place in history as a center of learning, the Great Library of Alexandria was created around 295 B.C. when Demetrius of Phalerun convinced the Egyptian Pharaoh Ptolemy to build a library that would house all the books in the world and become a center of culture and learning.

According to history Ptolemy developed such a passion for his library that any ship that came into harbor saw all of its books seized. The Pharaoh was good enough to make copies of the books but those were what were returned to the ship while the originals stayed in the library. The library was said to have amassed more then 700,000 scrolls before its eventual destruction by fire.


The New Library of Alexandria was created by Egypt, and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization with the goal of making it once again a focal point for research, and the advancement of knowledge and the open exchange of ideas. A number of countries contributed to its building, including the fallen government of Suddam Hussein, whose check for 21 million cleared the bank just days before the start of the Gulf War.

“In a world worried about the clash of civilizations, about war, about hatred and about killing, I think it’s significant that out of Egypt comes this new library, a place of understanding, learning, tolerance and brotherhood,”

Ismail Serageldin, the library’s director and a former World Bank vice president. s

alexandria_egypt-libraryThe current incarnation of the library has about 250,000 books which is less then most college libraries contain in their collections. The library currently has space for about 5 million volumes, while the largest library in the world, the Library of Congress has nearly 20 million. While the book collection is not even close to being the largest in the world, the library is notable for being the one and only mirror site (backup) for the Internet Archive. The Internet Archive (IA) is a nonprofit organization that maintains a on-line library and archive of web and multimedia resources. One should also not that this is the only library in the world whose collection is mirrored, (at least publicly.)

forecourtThe Library was designed by the Norwegian firm Snohetta in the shape of a disc tilted towards the Mediterranean to suggest the image of the Egyptian sun illuminating the world. The walls are built of grey Aswan granite and are carved with characters from one hundred and twenty different human scripts.

The exterior of the Library has a large reflecting pool and a public plaza which link the building to the sea and the city. The pools assist in cooling the building’s environs and naturally collect dust to improve air quality on the site.


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