July 31, 2014

Climbing the Shelves | Library by Design

ljx140502webLBDBackpage Climbing the Shelves | Library by Design

A LITERARY LANDSCAPE (Clockwise from top l.): Niños Conarte’s unique climbable shelves; colorful struts highlight the library’s industrial roots; programs target youngsters practically from birth

Monterrey is the third largest city in Mexico and an urban area rich in history and culture. It is also home to Fundidora Park, a Museum of Industrial Archaeology created from a steel foundry established in 1900. The expansive park includes recreation areas, auditoriums, convention centers, theme parks, hotels, and museums, along with the historic industrial structures from the foundry (blast furnaces, chimneys, and more).

On July 2, 2013, the complex added a library to the mix. The children’s library Niños Conarte provides a unique, interactive space to encourage reading and art education.

The Council for Culture and Arts of Nuevo Leon (Conarte) commissioned architectural firm Anagrama Branding to build the reading center and cultural theater. Anagrama was tasked with creating the space while also preserving the 11,000 square foot historic factory structure. (The architects can’t release the total cost of the project owing to nondisclosure agreements, Roberto Treviño, architecture director of Anagrama, told LJ. It was funded by Conaculta, Mexico’s National Council for Culture and Arts.)

Looking outside the library

As the design process began, the architects made a concerted effort to leave traditional library designs behind as they planned a fun and inviting space for children. They looked to other child-friendly spaces such as pavilions, playgrounds, and parks for inspiration.

They also gave a nod to the Sierra Madres foothills that surround the city of Monterrey for the shape of the imaginative reading space. The peaks and valleys offer children the chance to climb and explore while enjoying the books that surround them. The “mountains” are asymmetrical shelves covered in grey artificial grass. The color scheme makes use of primary colors with a neon twist to engage the children while complementing the industrial environs. Interior colors are replicated in the logo for a coherent theme.

Money or a library card are not necessary in order to visit Niños Conarte, but people who come had better bring socks: shoes aren’t allowed in the reading area. The space is intended to bring about the feeling of being surrounded by books, with tall shelves lining one wall. Approximately 4,300 titles are available to enjoy and share on-site but are not loaned. Selected by Conarte’s cultural development manager, a book editor, they cover a range of reading and age levels.

The topmost shelves hold historical items not for use by visitors. Children are welcome to share and enjoy the volumes on the bottom shelves. At some point, the topmost shelves may be appropriated for works in other languages (English, French, Portuguese, and German). If so, a special ladder will be installed to make them accessible.

Niños Contarte also meets a need in the community for art-related education. Anagrama designed the theater and art room with a more functional focus than the whimsical reading room. Design elements extend into the auditorium, with neon-red beams and blue pipes. Suspended tube lights illuminate the space while still revealing the historic framework of the building. Recently, Anagrama Branding was awarded the Architizer 2014 A+ Awards for Popular Choice and Jury Selection for this project.

Anagrama is familiar with presenting unexpected designs to surprised clients, and this project is no different. Treviño likened the experience to a roller-coaster ride, with clients both excited and nervous as they take the plunge. After a few weeks of discussing minor adjustments to the plan, Conarte staff approved the design, and their risk paid off.

Serving a destination population

Niños Conarte opened to very positive responses from the public, according to manager Ana Lucía Aguilar. Thousands explored the space during the summer of 2013, and the 20-person staff added weekend tours to meet demand. An estimated 30,000 children visit the space on a monthly basis. Feedback is then gathered from teachers who come with school groups; a more formal survey of public needs and opinions is being considered.

Niños Conarte is geared toward children from birth to age 13, parents, families, and educators. Some ten monitors, four of them children’s literature experts, help supervise the children and guide their experience through readers’ advisory. Groups frequently visit from area schools and organizations. Programs at the space include weekly storytelling sessions, bebeteca (a program for babies under two), plays, summer day camps, and more.

Aguilar describes two recent author visits as her most memorable experiences so far. When Javier Sáez Castán and Francisco Hinojosa stopped by, children were given the opportunity to ask the writers questions and have books signed. Aguilar was impressed by how the children’s questions displayed their developing literacy, critical thinking, and empathy skills.

Playing off its culturally rich surrounding in Fundidora Park, reflecting the topography of the Sierra Madres, and encouraging the love of reading and learning make Niños Conarte an innovative example of a library reflecting its community while also meeting its needs.

Ryann Uden is Head of Youth Services, Barrington Area Library, IL. Find her on Twitter @ryuden. Special thanks to Ana Lucía Aguilar of Niños Conarte and Lucía Elizondo of Anagrama Branding for assistance with this article.

This article was published in Library Journal's May 15, 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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