For Whom The Monument Speaks / by istudio


The voice whispered,

“Is this the most monumental building from all these weeks,”

not at the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacán[1], nor at the Metropolitan Cathedral[2] by the Zócalo[3], nor at the obelisk (monument) of Washington.  On the last day of the trip, we arrived at the Vasconcelos Library in downtown México City (DF).The length of the building was hidden from us until we discovered a plaza to the left side of the front façade.  Its louvers extended across the length of the building, stacked the whole height between the columns.  There were street musicians—some sitting on the circular concrete pavers, others sitting on a low concrete wall with chamfered edges—whose upright bass player was resigned to not being heard.

I am reminded of the first paragraph of a short story titled The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges:

The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors [...] Also through here passes a spiral stairway, which sinks abysmally and soars upwards to remote distances. In the hallway there is a mirror which faithfully duplicates all appearances. Men usually infer from this mirror that the Library is not infinite (if it were, why this illusory duplication?); I prefer to dream that its polished surfaces represent and promise the infinite ...

Inspired by this short story in one of my semesters at the WAAC (Virginia Tech Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center), I worked on a studio project for a library.  The design incorporated a central stack of books with see-through floors and reflective materials—which I was quick to deem unfeasible—“makes for pretty drawings.”  Such a building based on dreams and poetics could never really be built.  But it was.

During my travels through México I fell head-over-heels—enamored and googly-eyed—for the grace of Barragán’s house in DF, the charm of the doors of San Miguel, and the passion of the streets of Guanajuato.  However, monuments differ from other buildings at the root of our experiences.  They can surprise us, choke us, and draw tears from our chests.

Books were hung from the sky and balconies were hung from the books.  They soared to the highest point and extended to what seemed like infinity.  I could see the entire universe but could only comprehend the book that would be in front of me.  Facing each book between all these stacks, I felt the weight of human history compressing against my ego—and imagined the stories contained within and connected by each book—all the while feeling myself drawn to-and-from each section within the web of hanging pathways.A monument of books—a monument built by humans for the knowledge within the books, much like the books themselves—written by humans for the knowledge within the universe.  How wonderful it is to face a monument representing knowledge.

[1] The Pyramid of the Sun, the largest building in Teotihuacan, believed to have been constructed about 200 CE, and one of the largest in Mesoamerica At its zenith, perhaps in the first half of the 1st millennium AD, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas, with a population estimated at 125,000 or more, making it at least the sixth largest city in the world during its epoch. [2] The Metropolitan Cathedral is the largest cathedral in the Americas, situated atop the former Aztec sacred precinct in Downtown Mexico City. [3] The Zócalo in Mexico City is 57,600 m2 (620,000 sqft), one of the largest city squares in the world.