HIGH MOUNTAIN CULTURE ARK - SPAIN SEND A BOOK
[library] [art statement] [digital age] [design] [sacred architecture]
The library is a project realized by the Mataha Foundation , a small non-profit organization, established by the contemporary artist Louis De Cordier. The foundation's mission is to enhance the well-being of humanity. The Mataha Foundation pursues this goal by realizing and supporting holistic projects that draw on knowledge of the past and present for the prosperity of future generations. The foundation started its program by supporting the ongoing archaeological research into the recently discovered labyrinth of Egypt at Hawara. This colossal temple, a legendary building lost for two millennia under the ancient sands of Egypt, was described by many classical authors such as Herodotus and Strabo as containing 3000 rooms full of hieroglyphs and paintings. A giant stone book made by the ancients as a legacy for humanity. To continue its mission the Mataha Foundation developed the "culture ark" in the high mountains of Southern Spain, storing important books in a safe way for reflection, awareness and redundancy. The library's concept is holistic, from the overall mission to its connection with the resilient local population. Experimentation with many architectural concepts and site locations was undertaken since the launch of the project in 2009. The outcome was to build the library in the heart of the Spanish Sierra Nevada range, situated at 2000 meter above sea level, and 1 hour driving above the nearest mountain village. Numerous public and private libraries exist around the world; but all are in geographical, political, environmental or urban locations that may potentially be hazardous, nor were they specifically designed to resist time, making this little dome complex in Andalusia, named Biblioteca del Sol, the only ‘culture ark’ on the planet. The library derived its name from the Arabic expression Sulayr, meaning 'mountain of the sun', which is how the Moors referred to the Sierra Nevada. After all, the mountain of the Sun of the ancients, was the first place in the entire Mediterranean where the light of the sun fell.
Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? These questions are probably the most fundamental to mankind. The library project founds its origin in the quest to understand our place in the present world. How we have become what we are in this electronic age? What's the right thing to do? The project is among many things, a contemporary art project. Over the past century art has transformed itself from its preoccupation with beauty and the representation of the world, into something much more radical. Today, art has transformed itself into what rather can be described as a vast, chaotic yet effective research program that looks critically at the foundations of knowledge and perception, and the structures that modern society has chosen to construct upon these cultural foundations. With the goal to assist man in this time of change by creating transforming experiences, reshaping modes of perception. Leading the world to pathways beyond sustainability. The library project is about the awareness of the uncertainty that is an integral part of life, as well as the chaos inherent in the human condition. The library project is not only about questioning the industrial civilization we life in, but also the dominant culture on which it is based. Grasping the vicious spiral that ties the dirtying of the environment to the sullying of the spirit. We see a global repression of the nature of our own bodies and minds by a culture of exploitation, existing for millennia in an almost unchanged form. The human is a mental-spiritual being. Guiding stories, images, and insights of love and resistance will continue to accumulate in his cells until he recognizes and realizes them. The library project doesn't regard its mission to collect and preserve cultural works as self-evident. The project is as much about criticizing than honoring our cultural heritage. The library was created as a statement to help starting up the global reaction of change in the coming century. Fully supporting the possibility of radical upheaval the Biblioteca del Sol was realized, not as a memorial, but a source of life. Opposing all cunning and deceit.
The impact that digital technologies have on cultural forms can no longer be denied. New technologies as well as the overall and instant availability of information, not only transform our daily life and routine, but also redefine society towards the concept of fluidity. All in all this represents a clear instability of the role of old traditions, and manifests a distinct desire for new content and tasks within the changing information society. It would be disastrous not to open up towards these technologic developments. Opening up meaning not only becoming aware of its dangers, but also to apply its many great opportunities in the fulfillment of set goals. The library aspired the task to emphasize the shift in the preservation of library materials in a confronting way. Even more so since the borders of written information and digitalization are totally dissolving.
Man became believing so unconditionally in the titanic ship of progress, that the library builders saw it as their mission to realize a cultural lifeboat as a hardcore back-up for the future, confronting contemporary taboos surrounding our civilization's predicament. In contrast to a world of ongoing digitalization, the library project only preserves printed matter. Digitized information, especially on the Internet, has such rapid turnover these days that loss is the norm. Mankind is developing severe amnesia as a result; indeed we may have become too conditioned to notice it. The trust in digital technologies are drastically reshaping our cultural world on all levels. This reflects also how books are preserved by libraries. Many of their materials are moving to "off site repositories" to make space in central buildings for more meeting and online work spaces. These repositories are filling quickly and prompt the de-accessioning of books. Traditional libraries already started thinning their collections and throwing out books based on what had been digitized on the internet. While we understand the need to digitalize cultural holdings, we believe this should be done thoughtfully and aware of its long-term implications.
With the global explosion of digitalization, we might find ourselves living one day in a digital dark age. A possible future where it will be difficult or impossible to read historical electronic documents, because they have been stored in an obsolete medium, or even totally gone. A monumental risk that needs to be mitigated. Remember the faith of previous complex societies, which lost the human scale of things. Without cultural records, mankind has no memory to learn from its successes and failures. Proven many times over, ignorance of history condemns us to repeat things. Is it not our common duty to safeguard the most valuable knowledge in the best way possible? An important responsibility we face that facilitates the realization of specially designed repositories, such as the library in the Sierra Nevada mountains. After all, a library still is the best way to preserve the important aspects of man's written information for a future made by hand. Not DVD's, hard disks, chips, or the Internet.
The underground repository was constructed to last for millennia. The library builders created a maximum of storage space, efficiency and durability, with a minimum of budget, labor and visual impact. The building consist of a 8m diameter dome shaped bunker, surrounded by 4 book vaults. Created to separately contain knowledge about art, science, spirituality and a seed collection. The building was designed to blend in an existing massive terrace, once created by the Moors centuries ago to produce green tea or silk (mulberry trees). The library was conceived not to be open for public use, not only because of its mere role as being a back-up, its remote location, but the presence of many good communal libraries in the area for the day-to-day access to books and information. Because of this specific approach, we could focus to optimize the environment for physical preservation that facilitates the most basic access.
The repository is designed to both borrow cold and keep cold. The structured borrowed cold by digging deep into the ground, where the temperature well below the frost level remains fairly constant 11,11 Celsius (52°F). This works two ways. The deep-down earth library is slow to be affected by freezing high mountain surface temperatures in the winter, and protected by the hot Andalusian summer heat. The repository will maintain excellent storage temperatures between 0° & 13° Celsius (32° & 55°F), comparable with the statistics of several underground root cellars in the region. An inbuilt proper ventilation system, creates a constant airflow to help reduce excessive humidity and thus preventing undesirable condensation. The underground complex has 2 hatches, one as a main entrance connected with the dome, a second directly with the seed vault, to be used in case the first would become blocked. The main entrance is located at the end of a dolmen-style cave, connecting the library with the outside world. We intentionally made the entrance narrow, making physical entering difficult to prevent the building to be used for other purposes than the long term store of small items. Protecting its content by design, from the use as a living unit or animal stables.
Based on the design principle to use the current technologies and construction possibilities, the library builders created a resistant structure that otherwise would be very difficult to realize in a possible energy descent future. The constructors applied the most innovative construction technics and materials, such as a special concrete mix and replacing steel by a combination of glass fibres and composite rebar to reinforce the concrete structure. Steel is susceptible to oxidation (rust), leading overtime to cracking and deterioration of reinforced concrete. Composite rebar won't rust or corrode, so it's ideal for a long-term structure, making it extremely durable and maintenance free. Another advantage is that the tensile strength of fibre rebar is several times higher than steel, providing excellent fatigue resistance, making it suitable for cyclic loading situations, like in its seismical active location. From an electromagnetically sensitive viewpoint, both glass and polymer are inherently nonconductive, so they won't attract lightning strikes. The overall building is calculated to cope with strong earthquakes and has a pressure resistance, comparable with the load hundreds of meters under water, making it resistant to avalanches or a large rolling stone.
The library was envisioned to be more than just an underground book repository. It needed also to touch the realm of the sacred. Not in religious terms but rather in the notion of free space, where the mind can wander through the spatiality of nothingness, the void. The inner 'empty space' was mold on a geodesic dome, a multidimensional pyramid. Physical confrontation is a vital factor in the experience of the library. Its architecture is based on a fundamental one-to-one experience of space, and will continue to survive even when long lost its content. The project is a reaction on the contemporary cultural mindset, which lost its anchoring in past traditions, long-term thinking, but most of all, many of human's values and integrity. It hopes to transmit a message of hope towards many young people who are struggling the conceptual storm of our uncertain times and deeply disillusioned with the spiritual emptiness of industrialized civilization. The project supports however the driving force of the development of civilized mankind, thinking that the impetus is right, but not the course. The project's goal was to transcend the predicaments of the human condition, by producing an architectural womb that is strong, timeless, deeply rooted in its local context and universal. To do so, things and experiences were researched that do not change in design, questioning the dictums within the Egyptian, Roman, Moorish, Christian, Jewish, and other ancient cultures, with the wish to reinstate them in the realization of the library as a small cultural temple. In many ways the project is as much about making sense of our world, as it is about reflecting what we should do, or how to prepare for a cultural shift.
The library was constructed in the winter of 2012-2013 by Alex Brimmell & Son (dome builders) with a team of volunteers from the Beneficio eco-village near Orgiva . The project was helpfully coordinated by Mark Knight (author), and developed by Louis De Cordier (visual artist).
1 Mataha Foundation > www.matahafoundation.com
2 Louis De Cordier > www.louisdecordier.com
3 Labyrinth of Egypt > www.labyrinthofegypt.com
4 The Moors invaded in Spain 711 CE. They transformed the Alpujarras into an earthly paradise, and here they retired to bewail the loss of their beloved lands in Al-Andalus. In 1568, they rose up in a final revolt, which led to the expulsion of all Moors.
5 Digital dark age > en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_dark_age
6 Root cellars > underground vegetable preservation room.
7 Composite rebar > www.schoeck-combar.com
8 Geodesic dome was invented and patented by Buckminster Fuller, who dreamed it would house humanity.
9 The Romans invaded Spain in 206 BCE. A large part of the Alpujarran roads was built by them.
10 Beneficio community > en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beneficio
11 Mark Knight > www.waykiwayki.com
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