The Top 5 New International Libraries Are Definitely Worth a Detour

From China to the Netherlands, the International Federation of Library Association’s top picks include several creatively repurposed buildings.

The Top 5 New International Libraries Are Definitely Worth a Detour

IFLA recently announced the winner of the 2021 Systematic Public Library of the Year.

Photo by Ranurte/Unsplash

A good library can be hard to resist for the hopelessly fervent bookworm, even if you’re on the go and can’t check out any books. Thanks to the recently announced list of “best libraries” from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, readers and architecture fans alike can add these exceptional literary stops to their future trips.

IFLA was established in 1927 in Scotland and considers itself to be the “global voice of the library and information profession.”As such, every year, it names one newly built library its “Systematic Public Library of the Year,” which is essentially the honor of being the best new library in the world. The criteria are based on six categories: how well the library’s construction vibes with its surroundings, architectural brilliance, “flexibility” (how well its spaces can adapt to patrons’ various needs), sustainability, the design of learning spaces, and whether the digital world has been woven seamlessly into the library with creative IT systems. Usually, in order to qualify, a facility must have been completed sometime during the previous calendar year. However, because of the coronavirus, the organization’s 2020 awards were canceled, so libraries from both 2019 and the past year were eligible for this year’s competition. Here’s a peek at the top five finalists (including the winner):


Marrickville Library’s vast collection spotlights the Indigenous and industrial aspects of Australian culture.

Photograph by RossCad/Shutterstock

Marrickville Library and Pavilion

Marrickville, New South Wales, Australia

Unveiled in August 2019 and located in Sydney’s Marrickville neighborhood, this new library was repurposed from a 100-year-old hospital that was closed by the government in 1990. The updated design uses the original windows (each hospital room had one) and a bevy of skylights to bring in plentiful natural light, perfect for perusing its 85,000 books and 4,000-volume art history collection that emphasizes Australian art and out-of-print titles. Marickville Library has several other architectural highlights, such as its zigzag, “folding” roof, wood-accented interiors, and a soaring, three-story atrium. And it’s been outfitted with a number of environmentally friendly features too, including a rainwater collection system—a boon in sunny Sydney.


Forum Groningen was one of the most ambitious projects to date for NL Architects.

Photo by Nina Alizada/Shutterstock

Forum Groningen

Groningen, Netherlands

It’s hard to miss Forum Groningen’s unique facade in the city’s skyline. Designed by Dutch architecture firm NL Architects, the library’s distinct tapered shape was created by visualizing a rectangular block and chopping away at it with a series of carefully placed slices. The building’s boxy angles actually improve the flow of sunlight into the building and provide better access to the underground parking garage. Completed at the end of 2019, Forum Groningen is intended to be more than a library—its designers wanted it to be a “cultural department store” and allotted space for multiple cinemas, lecture halls, workspaces, and exhibition galleries. In fact, the designers don’t see the building as a library at all—it’s a speculative public space that they hope will feel like a “living room” for the city.


The Het Predikheren is part of Mechelen’s intensive revitalization project known as Tinelsite.

Photograph by Luoxi/Shutterstock

Het Predikheren

Mechelen, Belgium

Here’s a little revamped blast from the past: Het Predikheren is actually a repurposed monastery. Although it opened its doors to the public in 2019, the monastery was originally built in 1650; deconsecrated in the late 18th century, it was later used for almost 200 hundred years by the military. However, since 1975, the space sat vacant and abandoned, and the city considered it something of an eyesore. Helmed by Dutch architecture firm Korteknie Stuhlmacher Architecten, renovations began in 2011 with special attention paid toward preserving details of the original structure (such as its beamed ceiling), while updating the space with modern creature comforts. Het Predikheren boasts a restaurant with an outdoor terrace, Dutch-style dormer windows, a public area for group activities, and a study room that served as the old monastery’s library.


Ningbo New Library sits on the edge of a man-made ecological wetland area.

Photo by Tada Images

Ningbo New Library

Ningbo, China

Clocking in at 31,800-square-feet, Ningbo’s latest literary addition to its city was built to replace its former central library, which was considered to be far too maze-like and labyrinthian. The original facility held the largest collection of ancient books and texts in the region and purportedly attracted about 3,000 to 4,000 visitors per day—a number the Ningbo New Library is hoping to double. The building has a sleek, ultra-contemporary vibe with bright and airy interiors that have been painted an icy white, which pairs well with its slate gray floor tiles. With five spacious levels, Ningbo New Library offers a number of amenities to visitors, including research spaces, facilities and literature for the visually impaired, lecture halls, and a café. Outside, the property connects to an ecological park with a lake and plenty of walkways to encourage visitors to disconnect from their daily lives and reflect on nature.


Deichman Bjørvika is named after Carl Deichman, who started his book collection (and future endowment) in 1785.

Photo by Danne_l/Shutterstock

Deichman Bjørvika—Winner

Oslo, Norway

And last but not least, the winner of 2021’s Public Library of the Year award: Deichman Bjørvika. Sited next to the architecturally renowned Oslo Opera House along the waterfront, the city’s new central library is truly a sight to behold. Designed by the award-winning Norwegian Atelier Oslo AS and Lundhagem design firms, the building has a futuristic facade (plus a huge, striking cantilever) that pairs well with the ultra-contemporary look of the rest of Oslo’s Bjørvika neighborhood. Inside, the sleek, minimalist design still feels very warm and inviting thanks to a skylit atrium and hundreds of windows. Though it has the capacity to hold more than 450,000 books, this library isn’t a one-trick pony—it also houses a café, a restaurant, multiple reading rooms, and a 200-seat cinema. It’s clear that the building’s designers didn’t intend for this to be a place to just read quietly: Deichman Bjørvika is meant to be a hub where people meet and gather.

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Mae Hamilton is an assistant editor at AFAR. She covers all things related to arts, culture, and the beautiful things that make travel so special.
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