By Wong Kah Wei
Visitors to NUS’ Central Library will have noticed the BookBridge on level 2 – an impressive structure that dominates the façade of the Central Library’s ground floor entrance. The structure is particularly impressive in the evening and night, when illuminated by strategically placed lights.
Standing at 31m in length and 2.1m in height, this centrepiece holds a selection of NUS Libraries’ rare books collection. The BookBridge was designed in partnership with Professor Shinya Okuda from the NUS Department of Architecture, and built by homegrown woodworking firm Roger&Sons. It was among the first of such projects crafted using tropical Mass Engineered Timber (MET), a renewable, sustainable building material that can retain atmospheric carbon in solid status for the long-term.
The project was initiated by then-University Librarian Mrs Lee Cheng Ean. “The BookBridge houses our valuable historical rare book collection, taking centre stage in the NUS Central Library,” said Mrs Lee in a 2021 interview with NUS News. “The project also symbolises one of our missions of ‘bridging knowledge’. We are very pleased with BookBridge’s design philosophy and aesthetically-pleasing sturdy installation, which fills our senses with the serenity of the sustainable tropical forest.”
In 2022, the first-of-its-kind bookshelf won the iF DESIGN AWARD 2022 in the discipline of Interior Architecture. Organised in Germany since 1953, the prestigious award recognises good design for consumers and the design community.
Since its launch, the BookBridge has stirred the curiosity of both our users and the public. However, access is restricted to authorised staff, as the rare books need to be stored in a controlled environment.
“Some of these rare books date back to the 15th century and are understandably quite fragile,” said Gandhimathy Durairaj, Principal Librarian and Head of Collections. “Without proper temperature and humidity controls, these books will disintegrate in Singapore’s increasingly hot and humid climate. It is our duty to preserve and protect these precious artefacts and primary sources, so that future generations of scholars and society can continue to benefit from these rare treasures.”
Now, interested visitors can check out a specially created immersive virtual tour to “enter and experience” the BookBridge, as well as browse through some of the rare books and artwork kept in the space, including such treasures as the University of Malaya Foundation’s Pictorial Souvenir that depicts undergraduate life in the University of Malaya in 1949, as well as Walter Skeat’s 1901 publication Fables & Folk-tales from an Eastern Forest, which documents stories from Malay village story-tellers. Naturalists will enjoy The Birds of Singapore Island, a 1927 publication that describes the common birds found in Singapore.