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Libraries are like Noah's Arks for knowledge, says Eun Young Yi

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[THIS WEEK] Eun Young Yi may be a welcome discovery to many, writes James Pallister

One of the many images conjured up by Eun Young Yi at his London lecture, part of GEZE’s (of door and windows systems fame) 150th anniversary shindig, was of libraries being like little Noah’s Arks. ‘Even if the whole world collapses, if just one library survives, the world’s knowledge can continue,’ Yi said.

Relatively unknown in the UK, Eun Young Yi is a Korean-born architect practising in Germany. He designed Stuttgart’s controversial new library, a large monolith built on land made available by the reorganisation of the city’s Sand U-Bahn systems. It’s an imposing building. A concrete frame articulates a facade of nine by nine bays, each window framed by frosted glass bricks, with an entrance on each identical side. A four-storey atrium, lit by a square oculus, sits beneath reading areas organised round a series of ramps, which take the visitor through the remaining five storeys.

Eun Yeung Yi

Via a selection of ranging images from Claude Ledoux, Walter Gropius, Erich Mendelsohn and more, Yi positioned the project as being an important contribution to a recurring difficulty of 20th-century Modernism: how to incorporate the language of historically familiar forms. He kicked against the notions that ‘architecture is a cyber art or a commercial product’, rather that it should be about helping create places where people could ‘recognise their inner values’. Yi has specific ideas on how this is best done, and it’s about ‘reducing elements to their basics’. Clearly you don’t help people recognise their inner values by mucking around with frippery or non-essential structure. Instead, longstanding typologies - colonnades, arches - and tectonic simplicity are what cut it. Beauty, he told us, could only be attained by an architecture ‘which is true to its essence’. More John Calvin than John Lautner. Ending the lecture, he reminded us of architects’ duty to the following generations, via Ruskin’s aphorism ‘the earth is an entail, not a possession’. A hair shirt perhaps, but delivered with finesse.

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