Whenever I lament the absence of public libraries in our lives, I am always offered statistics to prove that, yes, they do exist, and that in fact some have been recognized as model libraries. But what is the library that I am in search of? One that is welcoming and wants its books read and in happy disarray, rather than neatly shelved and locked away, safe and secure for the book custodian and totally inaccessible to the readers for which they are meant.
With the present dearth of libraries, the WTA Architecture + Design Studio led by principal architect William Ti Jr. has quietly been working on The Book Stop Project, an innovative pop-up public library that has been going around Metro Manila since April 2016 for Dia del Libro at the Ayala Triangle. It has moved to the Plaza de Roma in Intramuros, San Sebastian Church in Quiapo, Molito Mall in Alabang, and Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City—all highly visible public places. At present, there are two such libraries—in Intramuros and in BGC, where they stay for three months. A third one is planned in Meycauayan, Bulacan, in January.
While it is called a pop-up, it is cutting-edge, hardly a pack-and-go invention. Made predominantly of steel and some wood, it is not a low-cost structure and is sturdy enough to be exposed to the elements but constructed for easy transport. The one in BGC has an innovation over the first, with steps that children love playing on, but are meant for performance viewing or seats for readers. It is deliberate that every Book Stop is different, to entice the public to come and read, and for Instagram moments, Ti says.
What drove Ti and his team to conceptualize Book Stop aside from his architectural firm’s usual jobs? (Their most recent project is the towering Philippine Christmas tree in front of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, made of steel and native rattan fibers: “Habi ng Pagkakaisa.”) Ti explains: “Our primary goal was to change the way our libraries operate. We were hoping to generate enough interest to get the public libraries to work with us and rethink how we can make them more viable and relevant.”
He is encouraged when he sees children poring over books, still entranced by stories. Social media comments rate it highly, raving about this awesome blind date with books and “more of this, please.” Also interesting is that many book lovers have their wedding photos taken at Book Stop. To him, that “shows how the public sorely needs to have this connection with literature that our libraries haven’t been able to provide.”
Ti knows whereof he speaks, being a reader of comic books and fantasy novels and a frustrated comic book artist who collects superhero toys. It is with pride when he says, “This tiny 12-square-meter library is currently the busiest library in the country, generating over 10 times more foot traffic and book turnover than the typical 200-square-meter municipal public library. It turns over an average of 100 books a day, with foot traffic of some 3,500 visitors, and has facilitated the sharing of over 30,000 books.”
With an architecture degree from the University of Santo Tomas and a master’s degree in urban design from the National University of Singapore, Ti is most encouraged that at New York’s Architizer A+Awards, Book Stop won the best library design for 2017 of both the Jury and Popular Choice Award for the Institutional-Libraries Typology, besting entries from some of the world’s leading architecture firms, including the Chicago Public Library by SOM and the Salisbury University Academic Commons by Sasaki. This was a first for the Philippines at this largest awards program honoring the best architecture in the world.
Only a book lover like Ti can conceptualize such a public library. “Books were my escape from boredom as a child,” he says. And only a follower of Rem Koolhaas and Jacques Herzog, both Pritzker Architecture laureates, can imagine and reimagine many incarnations of Book Stop. It’s a public service we all need.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@ gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.