The National and University Library, first established in 1774, is one of the most important national educational and cultural institutions of Slovenia, located in the centre of Ljubljana, designed in the years 1930 – 31 and constructed between 1936 – 41.
Plečnik designed the library as a temple to the wisdom of the Slovenian nation and not as a functional object. The building holds every Slovenian book, therefore all the knowledge that the nation is able to create.
The entrance to the building is not from the main street, as one might expect, but from the side street. This could be understood as the idea of knowledge not being something that proceeds from the “great door” and inaccessible to everyone, but that it is only something for the hallowed ones who are able to climb the thorny path to its summits. There is also a hook on the main door, which is set unusually high – as if for an ambitious goal that one is trying to achieve. Furthermore, it is shaped like a horse’s head and could therefore represent a sign of initiation – for example, the ancient winged horse Pegasus flew into the sky to Zeus, and so as one holds the hook shaped as a horse it is taking the decision to tread the path of knowledge.
Immediately after the main entrance there is a staircase that rises from the shadows straight into the reading room, above which there is a window facing south, through which the sun enters directly. The staircase symbolically signifies the process of growth from a lower to higher level, from darkness to light, symbolising the learning process itself.
The staircase is a stone one and it reigns over its mighty pillars, both of which symbolise strength, steadiness and power, which can be expressed with the solid, strong and unwavering will that is necessary for the learning progress.
The use of stone and pillars in the library is no accident – it symbolises the strong will that is necessary for studying: only studying brings knowledge, but the only goal that matters is wisdom.
The environment changes completely once you enter the reading room – it is a humble space, where Plečnik tried to create a setting in which one could properly concentrate.
The interesting thing about the library is that only the façade, staircase and the reading room have elements of a more lavish design, as those are the only areas visible to the public. The other spaces are also minimally equipped.