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Maharana Mewar Special Library (MMSL) - Conservation

The Original

At the original

The traditional façade was retained with minor additions and the entrance to the library was defined by an additional flight of stairs. Inside though, the library is a remarkably contemporary space. The three long aisles offer enough storage and reading room space.

The multi-levels at which the aisles are situated and the short flight up to the room on the southern end, break the monotony of the length of the library and are also in tune with the general architecture of the The City Palace, constructed as it is on a hill and thereby, multi-layered.

Being partly underground, the catacombs did not get too much natural light, a good condition for the conservation of fragile documents and similar artefacts. At the same time the side along the open passage got enough light to accommodate a number of casual reading room users sitting at common tables.The existing space of the catacombs was reluctant to reveal itself.

The floor of each of the three aisles was about three to four feet higher as one moved in (with no existing steps), making them three distinct, parallel tunnels. One could only grasp the space in isolated, unconnected parts. The challenge lay in transcending the dichotomy between the whole and the parts.

At the onset, it was decided that the library would not follow the standard space allocation as dictated by functional library architecture.

The royal book collections were electric in character and embraced varied subject interests. By nature, they had a wholeness about them, which did not lend easily to partitioning. At the same time, the three aisles in their own massively overpowering manner invited portioning.

Three points formed the design solution to this paradox, which ultimately emerged. First, the creation of cross sections across the aisles shifted the focus away from the lengthy strait-jacket of the aisles, allowing for movement across and around the library space. Secondly, the naturally present multiple floor levels within the library, took the emphasis away from the monotony of the length with spatial shifts occurring every now and then. Finally, three tiled lines, one running along the skirting near the floor, another at eye-level, and the third along the top of the book racks, became a striking way to lead the viewer along and around the entire length and breadth of the library, winding in and out in the manner of a tape. Here the storage and reading areas were clinically not segregated but moved easily into each other.

Individual reading carrels for serious researchers with built-in shelves were accommodated along the 2.5 meters wide walls that separate the aisles.

The Library was designed to retain the primary structure – the three parallel aisles with over 6 meters high – and reinforce the visual romance of the space through a judicious combination of natural and artificial light and an articulation of surfaces through a subtle variation of materials. Soft, fluorescent lights were used to illuminate the reading areas and the floor.

Warm, incandescent light defined the length and height of the bays. The soffits, the archways create a dramatic confrontation between a human, individual, abstract search for knowledge and the institutional, solid character of the existing structure.