As I’m posting this, the Russian military invasion of Ukraine is still ongoing and my preoccupations around architectural innovation for library spaces truly appear mundane next to unbearable news of human suffering in Eastern Europe. How can I write about elegance, comfort and convenience when personal safety, that most primordial of human rights, is being violated for millions of innocent civilians?
Having to deliver a contribution to my column in the spring issue of Information Professional magazine, I ended up choosing an image of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Library at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) in Geneva, Switzerland.
It is located in the Maison de la Paix, unveiled in 2013 as the Institute’s new headquarters and also home to several international and non-governmental organizations dedicated to peacekeeping. This House of Peace was designed by Eric Ott, Michel Egger and their team at IPAS Architects and was built in phases between 2008 and 2013.
Recognizing the fragility of peace, the architects sought inspiration from rounded shapes found in nature. The result looks like a string of leaves from an olive branch, strewn alongside the railway line on the way from Geneva’s main Cornavin train station to the lush Ariana park and the United Nations complex. Each “leaf” barely touches its neighbour, like trees communicating by brushing their leaves together, and through these connections students and researchers can cross from one building to the next.
The library is named after two alumni of the Graduate Institute: woman rights activist and philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis, who financed the library, and her husband Shelby Cullom Davis, a former US Ambassador to Switzerland.
Another prominent alumnus of the Graduate Institute was the late Kofi Annan, laureate of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize for his work as Secretary General of the United Nations. These words pronounced during his acceptance lecture resonate with me: “we can love what we are, without hating what -and who- we are not.” As I watch the news from Ukraine and those, closer to home, of deepening societal divisions, I can only wish for more awareness of the humanity that binds us rather than what tears us apart.
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!