Competiton for a New Library

Alexandria, Egypt

Judith DiMaio with William Jack Palmore

UNESCO sponsored competition for a New Library in Alexandria, Egypt.

The aspiration of the competition was to rebuild the famous, ancient Library that stood on the Silesian peninsula facing the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. DiMaio and her co-venture partner realized the importance of harking to the power of the past, the history, the materials available and once available to the Ancients: sandstone and pink granite from Aswan. The program for circulation desks, security, reading rooms and book storage was complex. The design finds inspiration from the weight of masonry construction and figural relationships creating spaces and sequences and an architectural promenade.

Site strategy: The initial site strategy was to ‘crank’ the primary facade to face the sea and the castle which now sits on the site of the Great Lighthouse. That wall of colossal, free-standing columns contained the private carrels for reading and research, each carrel with one carved-out window facing the lighthouse site. The poetic intention was to provide for knowledge and the memory of the past where the littlest thing, ‘the book’ and mind were housed in the biggest thing, the column of influence and prestige.

Use of masonry: This massing and sculptural wall facing the sea is dovetailed about a grouping or pile up of long, slender columns as a transition to the entrance wall which is at right angles to the great sculptural wall. Deployment and composition of this wall were derived from such facades as the Ca’ d’Oro, Venice, where symmetries shifted centers and perspectival implications harmonize to create balance.

The facade: Thematically the facade includes roundels in granite supporting cut-out reliefs of great literary figures from both the past and modern Egypt. A planetarium, the round, confronts and is trapped in the flat, all, of course, derived from trans-historical cross-overs and synthesis.

Public benefit: Though the primary directive was to build up the site where there was an existing civic center, and extend a magnificent garden out onto the peninsula itself, the mission of both DiMaio and UNESCO was to elevate the quality of life for the people of Alexandria by developing the waterfront and providing the site with a powerful reminder of the Library's original significance as the First Library.

Recognition: The competition entry was exhibited at Yale University’s School of Architecture and an essay in Colin Rowe’s book, As I was Saying, Volume III, provides a critical review of the competition and its aspirations.

Biblioteca Alexandrina


Johann Fischer von Erlach, Pharos Alexandria, 1721

Jean-Jacques Lequeu, Design for a Temple of Equality, 1793-1794

Fratelli Alinari, Ca' d'Oro, Venice, ca. 1880