Map of Virgilio Barco LibraryLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
As I knew I would wake up early because of the unavoidable jet lag, I had looked for something to do in Bogotá in the early morning of my first day here. I found it with the Virgilio Barco Library, one of two TWHS in Colombia’s capital dedicated to modern architecture. It opens most days at 8 a.m. as it is a fully functioning public library. If the library were to become a WHS in the next few years, it would be the most recently built site on the List. It only opened in December 2001.
Bogotá is a sprawling city and although the library is located fairly central, I needed a 25 minute taxi ride from my hotel near the National Museum to get there. The EasyTaxi app did its work flawlessly – for less than 3 EUR I was transported from door to door by a yellow taxi. Despite the early hour, I found several people already walking the paths in the surrounding Virgilio Barco Park (which is also part of the TWHS). The area is also popular with bikers and you can rent bikes from street stalls.
The Virgilio Barco Library is the chosen site among the works of the Colombian architect Rogelio Salmona. Actually the whole country is dotted with important works of his design. He is known for his brick architecture and conscious use of water. At this site in Bogotá he succeeded very well in “incorporating it into the landscape”: the building lies on a raised area that previously was used to store waste.
I found it a pleasure to do a full loop on foot around the building, following the canals and the immaculately kept lawns. Salmona is said to have been inspired mostly by Granada’s Alhambra for this work and the similarities are easy to spot: the vistas incorporating flowing water and palm trees, the Moorish-inspired geometric motifs. Another influence is Le Corbusier, with whom Salomona worked together in his early years (including Chandigarh). Fortunately the white concrete horizontal layers are not that prominent here. Other great international architectural works may also have been taken as an example. When I posted a photo of one of the water works in our whatsapp group, the suggestion came back whether it was “a swimming pool made by Frank Lloyd Wright?”
The building’s interior feels a bit cold and barren, with half-open corridors and a lot of brick. The main reading room however has a lot of natural light and fine views of the surrounding park. The other rooms I did not find that interesting, but it is worth to go upstairs to The Terrace (the ubiquitous security guards will point you there).
To predict whether this will ever be included in the WH List, the question needs to be answered what the influence of Rogelio Salmona was outside of Colombia’s borders. Wiki learns us that he “promoted conferences on Latin American architecture”. But as far as my research reached he seems to have only worked in Colombia. He is known though as one of Latin America’s most outstanding architects – and if Oscar Niemeyer can get 2 WHS all by himself…. I give the Virgilio Barco Library a ‘thumbs up’ as I found it a fascinating building and enjoyed my visit. I think the place warrants an hour of anyone remotely interested in modern architecture.
Read more from Els Slots here.
The library is situated at what looks like the only empty road in Bogota. Entrance is free but you have to put your stuff into a locker to enter the inside rooms, with guards posted to ensure it. Odd. The main attraction is the entrance fountain though, which seems flawed as it doesn't flow entirely center, and the parks around the area make for a nice visit. Inside are modern corridors and spiral staircases which aren't too special. I think this should come on the "nice to see but not WHS" list.
Besides, if you don't speak Spanish the library is kinda useless and one feels out of place among the students roaming around. Maybe if I wouldn't have had my camera around my neck I would not stand out so much. Staff was really happy to see a visitor though.
Unfortunately our only chance to visit this library was on a rainy holiday and it was not open. Maybe a better appreciation of the architectural achievements can be gained from the inside but from outside it seemed to be a nice modern structure but didn't wow us significantly. The library is surrounded by an integrated park space with small water channels leading away from the building and the TWHS is supposed to be considered as a whole with its surrounding landscape. Some families were still using the park for picnics despite the rain and on a nice day it would be a peaceful getaway from the chaos of the city core but we didn't linger long.