New central library should be functional & exude dignity--Editorial

2020-09-14 03:15     Comment:0

Cultural Affairs Bureau (IC) President Mok Ian Ian made my day when she announced on Thursday that the government will finally get its long-delayed new central library project off the ground.

As a die-hard bibliophile I have been attracted to libraries since my childhood. I spent much of my university years in Munich in the colossal but poorly-lit reading hall of the Bavarian State Library. Well, I must admit that I spent large part of my presence in the library’s ground-floor café because I am also an inveterate coffeephile so I hope that our new central library will feature a cosy coffee shop as well, preferably with my favourite Timor coffee on the menu. For me at least, the relationship between books and coffee is like fish and water.

I used to frequent, in the 1980s in particular, Macau’s awe-inspiring Senado Library, the small-but-homely Sir Robert Ho Tung Library and the much less visually attractive but nevertheless well-stocked reference library on the ground floor of the now defunct Catholic Centre. I learnt a lot about Macau from books in these three useful but very differently designed libraries.

Well, functionality is ultimately the most important aspect of library design, such as offering its users eye-friendly surroundings by ensuring optimal natural and artificial lighting. Poor lighting is a problem in many libraries’ reading halls. When I got my first prescription glasses in my early twenties, I considered for a while, tongue-in-cheek, to send the bill to the Bavarian State Library. Poor lighting in a library is a health hazard because of the strain it puts on readers’ eyes. Proper lighting ought to be the main concern for every architect designing a library.

Let’s hope that the architects of our new central library will focus their attention on the building’s lighting and other practical rather than seemingly “attractive” features of their design. If the proposed design comes up with architectural eye candy images, well, that’s surely a bonus point, but it should not be the overwhelming consideration when the gavel ending the bidding comes down.

What we need is a central library that is practical and functional and that offers its users eye comfort and body-friendly furniture, for its young and elderly users in particular. In my view, the design of the façade should be just one of various factors when evaluating the rival proposals. A library design with a fancy frontage but an impractical interior is a waste of resources. Fancy façades should be left to the private sector such as gaming operators. Public sector buildings should exude a solemn dignity.

I also expect our new central library to be barrier-free and, as a journalist, I hope that it will also feature a well-stocked periodicals reading room (the Spanish and Portuguese languages even have a proper term for it – hemeroteca) in various languages, considering Macau’s desired position as a world centre of tourism and leisure.

Considering our city’s economic troubles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope that the government will ensure rigorous project planning and management and strict cost control and avoidance of delays. Delay-filled public projects’ cost escalation, unfortunately, has become all too common in Macau. The apparently “interminable” Cotai hospital and Macau Grand Prix Museum projects spring to mind…

The new central library project could – touch wood – herald the “new normal” in efficient project management by the public sector. As the eternal optimist, that’s what I sincerely hope.

– Harald Brüning

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