1/6
Detail of The Universe.
2/6
Detail of The Vindications.
3/6
Detail of Glowing Fruit.
4/6
Detail of Traveler and Inquisitors.
5/6
Detail of Book Man.
6/6
Detail of Necessities.

THE LIBRARY OF BABEL

Design Observer, Illustrations for Publication

The Library of Babel is an exploration of the intimate relationship between the structure of Borges' fairy tale and the imaginative realm of architecture through a sequence of graphic works. The illustrations were created for the Design Observer’s ongoing series Fairy Tale Architecture curated by writer Kate Bernheimer and architect Andrew Bernheimer.

R+L was simply fascinated with the story - with the breadth of possible architectural outcomes given the specificity of Borges’ description of the library, with the notion that all the books that could ever be written would be accessible (essentially providing access to future knowledge), and with its prediction of our contemporary condition of living with overwhelming access to information.

The modest scale of the individual hexagonal library unit gave us an illusionary sense of personal scale and intimacy that seemed to us both reasonable and understandable. As the extent of the conceit unfolds, the library's impenetrability becomes clear and the illusion that all knowledge is somehow close at hand slips away. It was fascinating to analyze the text and mine it for the real, the everyday, the architectural givens of the tale and at the same time search the story for what is not prescribed. We both took care to not veer from the specific descriptions of the spaces and their relationships, and guarded against our own assumptions in order to find holes in the story - its openings for interpretation.

R+L speculated about how this structure might be built - it is at once completely ordinary and impossible. At the scale of the individual unit or unit cluster, it is easy to imagine, yet by extending it to a size, even a small fraction of what Borges’ story suggests, we bumped up against magical glitches in the story. When spacecraft, artificial gravity and space/time warps came into our internal debates, we knew we were missing the point. At best, our understanding of the library, like our understanding of the universe, is rather incomplete.

Lyn Rice and Astrid Lipka, principals
Benjamin Cadena, associate
Howard Won, designer