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Virgilio Barco Library

Date of Submission: 27/09/2012
Criteria: (i)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delagation of Colombia to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Colombia, Bogotá D.C.
Coordinates: N4 39 25.38 W74 5 18.24
Ref.: 5768
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The building´s design was commissioned to Rogelio Salmona (1929-2007) who is considered the most important Colombian architect of the 20th century and one of the most prominent in Latin America. His work is characterized for its durability, solidity and stability and in this particular case it was not only about producing an aesthetic and technical piece but also generating en entire cultural expression. This architecture does not have an obvious unit; instead it unfolds in sequences of surprising and different spaces, where chance and intuition play an important role when interpreting and appreciating the result of the construction works.

The building, being one of the four largest libraries of the BIBLORED network (El Tintal, El Tunal, Julio Mario Santo Domingo and Virgilio Barco Vargas), stands out due to its location inside a park, configuring within according to its creator, a kind of “ceremonial center” where interactions take place between the city, the park and the building, enabling visitors to explore the place-as it has four different access points- finding along the way gardens, water canals and mirrors that reflect and duplicate. The user is given the alternative to enter and discover its premises without limitations or prohibitions.

This library welcomes visitors with open areas that facilitate gatherings, its architecture creates small corners and a design integrated into the eastern hills of Bogotá. It has a circulation system through a system of ramps that connect the different spaces of the building and link it to the outside, generating at the same time tour circuits throughout the building, its floors and the surrounding park, thus forming an architectural complex laden with geographical, landscape, historical and experimental values.

This project has become a reference of contemporary public spaces, as it has modified the traditional conception of the same, based on the incorporation of routes and meeting places of free access that enrich and enable visitors to enjoy its aesthetic, technical and environmental values, providing the option to walk, enjoy the landscape, read or paint inside the public building. This piece of architecture is made to be seen, lived and used both by the direct recipient as well as by all those people who are aware of it presence in the city. This is a common good.

The building houses a library area of nearly 7.000 m2 and more than 6.000m2 of parking space, including an area for permanent or temporary exhibitions, a large reading room with capacity for 500 users, an auditorium for 350 people, several reference and specialized information rooms, a newspaper library, various music rooms, research spaces, a book lending area, a children´s library with a reading room, a multimedia room and a space for workshops and creative activities.

This piece of work was conceived as an articulated as a whole consisting of several pieces and that generates an expressive variety with multiple contrasts. One of the outstanding features of its design and construction is the coordination work achieved between the architectural design and the structure  making this one of the best buildings of Salmona, -a milestone of Colombian contemporary architecture- the expressive use of bricks and the formal and aesthetic answer to the particular conditions of the place, its raising location as the result of the characteristics of the ground that led to the creation of slopes of different sizes and shapes surrounding the building, isolating it from the noise and incorporating it completely into the landscape(Escovar, 2008). The raised area is due to the filling of more than 5m above the level of the roads, as a result of the accumulation of debris, as this place was used in the past as a receptor of waste from several parts of the city.

The park surrounding the building was equally designed by architect Salmona and includes paths and pedestrian routes between slopes; bike paths, canals, gutters and culverts that transport the waters. It also contains four lakes and several squares, one of which rises on the south side of the main building and is used as as view ground based on a water mirror where the two water canals that surround the park come together. Its tree planting consists of native trees such as carboneros, cauchos, ferns, yarumos, myrtles and magnolias and other ornamental species such as quince and palm kernels. In environmental terms, this park is a satellite garden of the Celestino Mutis Botanical Garden and of the green areas that make up the Simón Bolívar Metropolitan Park, the largest of Bogotá. The aspects covered by the architect upon formulation of this project were:

- The public character of both the building and the park, recognizing the capacity of the city and its buildings as spaces of social cohesion by offering cultural gathering and exchange places, enabling collective ownership and identification of the people with the architecture.

- The notion of a place that is not limited to its immediate conditions but that involves the geographical, historical and social context, with the use and integration of the site´s elements, vegetation, water and the different views.

- Diversification of activities, among which one finds reading, writing, creativity and film, with the provision of different areas and spaces to carry out said activities.

- The search and configuration of spaces capable of becoming part of visitors´memories, by recalling remembrances and generating new ones through their experience, producing an architecture full of “places of remembrance” with spaces that generate a thrill, as a result of the use of shapes, materials, elements and textures that affect the senses, providing a sensory experience to those who see and perceive them. This is the synthesis of an intention to shape dynamic and unexpected spaces integrated into the landscape.

- The possibility of generating tours that contribute to the surprise effect as a means to facilitate unique encounters between the visitor, the building and the geographic surroundings, with multiple places to discover, resulting in the need to return and maintain a permanent connection with the place.

- Use of rain water, its integration into the building and the lakes, canals and water mirrors that duplicate the landscape.

- This library, as many other works of its designer has left its mark in the entire architectural movement in Colombia and the world´s, Salmona was both a national and a universal architect, in the sense that he sought answers to questions for today´s society, reassessing the concept of what is public.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Virgilio Barco public library is one of the most notorious works of architect Rogelio Salmona who is considered the best Colombian architect of the 20th century and one of the most prominent in Latin America due to his achieving a project that has a great landscape and architectural value, and in which city, park and building are exceptionally integrated.

Salmona´s status as “Universal” architect makes this building complex a reference of the 20th century architecture, where it is possible to appreciate the maturity of the aesthetic, technical and symbolic conception of the work.

The Virgilio Barco Library is part of the recent history of the city and the country, but it is also considered a milestone in the development and upgrade process of the city´s infrastructure, in conjunction with other elements such as the integrated mass transit service and the recovery of the urban areas that have transformed Bogotá´s image considerably.

These changes should not only be considered in the physical and infrastructure sense, but what is more important, one must consider their contribution to education, culture and quality of life in the city.

Criterin (i): The creator´s sensibility embodied in the quality of its architectural design, its spatial conception, its subtle integration with the city in spite of the latter´s physical isolation from its immediate urban context, the expressiveness achieved with the use of material (decorative brickwork) and the offer of experiences and alternatives of use that go beyond the specific architectural programs for this type of projects. This building is considered one of the most important works of Rogelio Salmona, and one of the most representative recent buildings of the city and the country.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Currently, the Virgilio Barco Library is protected by the Colombian Legislation as it was declared a National Site of Cultural Interest by way of Resolution 1773 dated October 25, 2007. Additionally, it is part of the Red de Bibliotecas Públicas de Bogotá BIBLIORED (Public Libraries Network), and it has been awarded internationally for its provision of coverage and services to people with limited income. In spite of the high number of visitors and as a result of the cultural transformation process that started years ago in Bogotá, and of which the library is an important element, the building does not show damage or deterioration.

The Virgilio Barco Library is a public building and heritage of all the citizens. Its stands out due to its unique architectural quality and the various services it offers to its visitors, which go beyond those typically offered in a project of this nature. Within the city´s context, which is a global example of how to build a culture of citizenship and positive transformation of the urban image, its construction represents a pivotal moment, integrating spaces designed with special sensibility with appropriation processes and improvement of quality of life of its users.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Town Houses of Victor Horta in Brussels (Belgium)

The four major town houses - Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel van Eetvelde, and Maison & Atelier Horta - located in Brussels and designed by the architect Victor Horta, one of the earliest initiators of Art Nouveau, are some of the most remarkable pioneering works of architecture of the end of the 19th century. The stylistic revolution represented by these works is characterized by their open plan, the diffusion of light, and the brilliant joining of the curved lines of decoration with the structure of the building. Their declaration was justified under criteria i, ii, and iv.

The Luis Barragán House and Studio in Mexico

Built in 1948, the House and Studio of architect Luis Barragán in the suburbs of Mexico City represents an outstanding example of the architect’s creative work in the post-Second World War period.  The concrete building, totaling 1,161 m2, consists of a ground floor and two upper storeys, as well as a small private garden. Barragán’s work integrated modern and traditional artistic and vernacular currents and elements into a new synthesis, which has been greatly influential, especially in the contemporary design of gardens, plazas and landscapes. The declaration of this house is justified under criteria i and iv.