the rendition of the installation as built around the dormant foundation in Civic Center Park
A rendition of the Lacuna installation to be built around the dormant fountain foundation in Berkeley’s Civic Center Park as a centerpiece of the inaugural Bay Area Book Festival on June 6-7, 2015. Image: FLUX

Berkeley, it’s been said, is a book town. But never before has it had an actual temple made of books.

Rising in Civic Center Park this June will be a public art installation made out of 50,000 books. The walls and ceiling will be constructed from books, the circular ceiling will be alive as pages of intact books strung upside down from guy-wire flutter in the wind like prayer flags. The walls of shelves will be permeable, the entire structure evanescent — because the purpose of this library-temple is for the books to be given away.

This installation will be one of the centerpieces of the first annual Bay Area Book Festival being held in downtown Berkeley all day Saturday and Sunday, June 6-7, 2015. The festival will bring more than 225 authors to speak on indoor stages. Downtown streets will fill with 150 literary exhibitors, a Children’s Arena, a Teen Stage, a Cooking Stage, a chalk street art contest, food trucks, and more.

The installation, called Lacuna, will be built around the dormant fountain in MLK Jr. Civic Center Park. It will invite festivalgoers to enter, browse, sit for a while — and take a book. Organizers aim for it to be a respite from the busy festival.

The idea was born when Brewster Kahle, director of the Internet Archive, made a startling offer to Cherilyn Parsons, founder and director of the festival. The nonprofit Archive has a mission to create a free Internet library by scanning and archiving the world’s cultural artifacts — including books, movies, music, images, and websites. People send millions of physical books to be scanned, and the Archive keeps a physical copy of each. But they have duplicates — lots of duplicates.

At a party in May 2014, Kahle told Parsons about duplicates he couldn’t store any longer at his 70,000-square foot Richmond warehouse. He offered Parsons 200,000 books for the festival “on condition that they be given away to be read — that they be used as books.

“I immediately envisioned a structure made of books, a kind of ‘city of books,” said Parsons.

The project grew into an artistic installation thanks to the efforts of Victoria Rojas, who became the festival’s volunteer Public Art Manager. Involved in the public art world, Rojas has been part of the Black Rock Public Library community at Burning Man, and had started a small festival in San Francisco around Banned Books Week.

Rojas pulled in the FLUX Foundation, a Bay Area-based nonprofit arts organization that engages people collaboratively in designing and building large-scale public art. The group has a strong portfolio building large-scale art of this kind, including the Temple of FLUX (Burning Man, 2010) and The Sidewalk’s End (Coachella, 2013).

“FLUX immediately understood what we were going for, and they came back with the concept and design for Lacuna that matched to a tee what the festival team was envisioning. Plus they had the experience and resources to actually get it done,” said Rojas.

The design is inspired by formal civic buildings like Rome’s Pantheon and nomadic structures of central Asia. Viewed from above, Lacuna resembles a bicycle wheel or sundial. Radiating from a central apex, 12 book-lined alcoves create intimate spaces, while the central area allows for communal exchanges. As people take books over the weekend, the very walls of Lacuna will change; gaps will let in light and sound.

Lacuna’s location in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park resonates with historical significance. Lacuna will rest on a site used for free-speech demonstrations during anti-Vietnam rallies in the 1960s.

The creation of Lacuna is an open process that welcomes volunteers. “Currently, book sorters are the primary need,” Rojas says. Volunteers appear in shifts at the Archive warehouse to allocate books from big unsorted boxes into new boxes assigned to categories.

“A fun part is finding the occasional really weird treasure in those boxes,” Rojas said. “Atomic Energy Commission documents from the 1940s? Who knew? We’re saving the weirdest, most wonderful finds for our ‘Lacuna Book Club’ for supporters who donate to the Kickstarter campaign to show off what’s deep inside the Archive. There’s a copy of pretty much everything under the sun.”

In May, FLUX will be overseeing a crew to help with fabrication and construction, also in the warehouse space being provided by the Archive.

The project ended up using only 50,000 books from the original offer of 200,000 in order to fit in the designated space around the fountain. The remaining 150,000 books will be used for future incarnations — and “the Archive has offered an endless supply,” Parsons said.

There has been some interest from a major museum in showing Lacuna, and also talk about mounting the installation at other festivals. Most likely, Parsons said, Lacuna will return at next year’s Bay Area Book Festival, too. “We’re creating a marvelous, free, interactive, outdoor library that can be experienced in different locales. And it’s all starting in Berkeley.”

Want to get involved? Lacuna needs help sorting books, donations of building materials from hardware stores, and support via its Kickstarter campaign, where you can see a video of the construction plan. Also learn more at the Project Lacuna website.


This post was written by, and is sponsored by, the Bay Area Book Festival. For more information about the festival, which takes place on June 6-7, 2015, visit the festival website. Berkeleyside is a media sponsor of the Bay Area Book Festival.

Over the weekend of April 28-29, 2018, the fourth annual Bay Area Book Festival will fill downtown Berkeley with a literary extravaganza that offers pleasure to anyone who has ever loved a book. Whether...