The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is built on a magnificent site alongside Alexandria's ancient harbor in the historic center of the city. The 11-story library can contain up to 4 million volumes of books, and can be expanded up to 8 million by the use of compact storage. In addition to the library facilities, the library also contains other cultural and educational functions including a planetarium, several museums, a school for information science, and conservation facilities. Characterized by its circular, tilting form, the building spans 160 meters in diameter and reaches up to 32 meters in height, while also diving some 12 meters into the ground. An open plaza and reflecting pool surrounds the building, and a footbridge links the city to the nearby University of Alexandria.
Conceived as a revival of the ancient library in the city founded by Alexander the Great some 2300 years ago and lost to civilization centuries later, the new Alexandria Library is a contemporary design that will contribute meaningfully to students, researchers and the public. The design of the new library is both timeless and bold. Its vast circular form alongside the circular Alexandrian harbor recalls the cyclical nature of knowledge, fluid throughout time. It’s glistening, tilting roof recalls the ancient Alexandrian lighthouse and provides the city with a new symbol for learning and culture.
An anonymous international competition was held in 1989 for the selection of the winning design. Snøhetta was awarded first prize.
The carvings were done in collaboration with the artists Jorunn Sannes and Kristian Blystad and employed local stone cutting methods to create the facade.
The 20,000 m2 open reading room for 2000 readers, the largest of its kind, worldwide, occupies more than half of the library volume and is stepped over seven terraces.
Indirectly lit by vertical, north facing skylights in the roof, the spacious room will not be exposed to direct sunlight that is harmful to books and manuscripts.
This concept is repeated throughout the room and creates a large amphitheater with a large variety of evenly lit reading facilities. The building is further augmented by up-to-date digital information facilities and planned to accept a wide range of changing technologies in the future.