Bruce Nagel & Partners Architects

The Biblioteca Alexandrina

Alexandria, Egypt
1989
Unbuilt Project

Judith DiMaio Architect

  • Judith DiMaio (BN&PA-Design Partner) - Architect
  • Model Photographer - Jock Pottle Photography

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In 1989 the Egyptian government and UNESCO announced their intention, by way of an international competition, to rebuild the great Library of Alexandria long since vanished through the process of ruin and decay. The program brief was a highly alluring document.  “The program was exacting; both topographically and historically…. the site possesses dimensions which approach the spectacular,” to quote the Colin Rowe, critic and eminence grise of architectural thought.  ( 1.)

DiMaio, impassioned by Roman antiquity , Egypt and North Africa where she has visited extensively,   and recognizing  the importance of the design strategies that lost civilizations have to offer seized upon the opportunity to enter the international competition. In collaboration with architect William Jack Palmore they devised a scheme that was referential to the past but modern in intention and responsive to modern library science.  Specifically, their design intention captured the poetry and prose of the program and the memory of things past. They addressed the present day site situation by rotating their building  to confront and align with the site of the long lost Lighthouse  of Alexandria,  one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient  world. Alternatively, the rotated building volume from the other side faced the entrance to the harbor and  harked back to the long vanished palace of the Ptolemy’s, and its Selselah Peninsula gardens.

The genius of their design also resides in their play with the colossal scale that is the Egypt of the Pharohs and their use of materials; golden Egyptian limestone and pink granite still quarried in Aswan in Upper Egypt. The Colossal order of columns oriented towards the lighthouse site house the library carrels.

  1. Colin Rowe, in the Third Volume of his book “A s I was Saying;  Urbanistics”  recognized and discussed the DiMaio-Palmore project, and acknowledged “ its many virtues – it does not hide itself; it makes a major contribution to the urban scenery of Alexandria …”