Parti-Librari: A Portable Reading Room Concept

Buildner, in partnership with MArch Valencia, issued the second edition of their Portable Reading Rooms architecture competition. Our BKV Group team collaborated on a versatile concept of lightweight components that can be reconfigured to create distinctly unique and inviting installations adaptable to locations within any climate or season.

With the latest research into literacy revealing that children as young as three benefit from being read to from physical books, the competition asked for design concepts that create a small structure that could be embedded within existing public spaces in multiple locations around the world. The competition also encouraged participants to stretch the imagination of the design and function of reading rooms.

The BKV Group team – composed of Senior Associate and Project Manager, Chris Hutton; Architectural Designer, Jena Quast; and Project Architect, Brita Carlson; and oversight provided by Education & Library Practice Leader and Partner, Susan Morgan – began their concept by posing the question: “In an increasingly digital world, what is the role of the physical book?” This prompt challenged our team to design a space for the appreciation of the book, while considering the modern function of a library within a small, 20m2 footprint.

The resulting concept, titled Parti-Librari, explored the ever-evolving role of libraries as physical and social anchors in today’s society, recognizing the increasing need for these spaces to be adaptable and versatile in order to serve their communities. The concept also addresses the notion that a library or reading room can physically adapt in response to each specific context and need, with scale, function, use, and identity all tailored through the use of a kit of parts. It is a solution that inspires, serves, engages, and enlightens.

The Design Concept

The kit-of-parts concept can be broken down into small-scale, function-specific, and function-adaptable elements that can be managed and manipulated by one or two people to fit the need of each location where the library is deployed. The kit includes:

Tiles: interlocking panels to provide stability, support, and accessibility at the ground level, creating the ‘footprint’ of each library, and the attachment point for the reading room’s other components.

Poles: two sizes allow for customization of height with retracting, customizable panels that stretch pole to pole to create or anchor space, while also establishing spatial identity and incorporating environmental lighting.

Panels: ribbons of poetry, logos, pages of books, or colorful art that establish the visual identity of the reading room, while optionally serving as one of the ‘materials’ available as a resource to visitors. They can be unique to each location or common as a method of providing a consistent experience. They can be exchanged as the seasons change, or personalized by the local author, artist, activist, resident, librarian.

Drums – seat, storage, and more: the drum is the keeper of books and other physical materials. The component is adaptable: it can be a fire pit for use in colder climates, or provide integrated speakers when deployed in larger arrays.

With these components, the team tested the ‘librari’ in four different scenarios:


A space in the city, Librari is deployed as a linear park, engaging an unused space while providing a moment of respite in an active world. Panels glow with a logo, poles provide light, and drums act as a book exchange, engaging passersby day and night.


A concept for large spaces, Gather is deployed in plazas and town centers, for activities and events, or to otherwise to enliven the public realm. Poles and panels serve as a backdrop for activity, setting the stage for the what’s to come, while drums and tiles create seating for small groups to pause, observe, and engage.


A path through the forest, Wander is deployed as an act of movement, winding through the natural realm. Tiles define the journey of traveling through a sea of trees. Poles and trees are sturdy and stable, while ribbons of text carry you forward on your journey.


A place to pause and reflect, Hearth provides a moment of relief and rest just off the trail. The winter conditions call for their own unique language.  Panels and poles create a shield from the blustery wind while reflecting the energy of the night sky. Drums are both seats and a fire pit that will take the chill off, just enough to look up in awe and wonder.

Part-Librari begs the question, “In an increasingly digital world, what is a library and what is a reading room?” The BKV concept embodies the core purposes and value of libraries and reading spaces: welcome; safety; an invitation to curiosity and connection; a place to connect with resources physical, digital, and inter-personal; a community living room for learning, dialogue, and exchange; peaceful and focused, active and dynamic; a place for people across all demographics; a cultural touchstone amidst changing landscapes. The Parti-Librari concept demonstrates the resiliency and adaptability of libraries, and establishes a low-intensity approach to site and purpose-built placemaking.