bibliotheca alexandrina, Alexandria, library, James Willis, photography, images, Balfour Beatty, Snohetta, Hanza, Egypt, architecture, building  

Website featuring a large selection of high quality images of the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Alexandria Library) in Egypt. All photography by James Willis.


James Willis is one of the most experienced photographers in the UK. Specialising in people, major projects, and architecture - for corporate print, advertising & editorial use - he works throughout Europe, the Middle East, Far East & USA.

In a career spanning 25 years, his photographs have contributed to award-winning projects for clients such as: Amlin, Balfour Beatty, Bank of Scotland, Banque Paribas, Barclays Group, Commercial Bank of Kuwait, Contemporary Arts Society, Daiwa Europe Bank, Debenhams, Eversheds, Guardian Financial Services, Gulf Bank, Hambros Bank, Inter-Continental Hotels, Johnson Matthey, KPMG, Merrill Lynch, Midlands Electricity, National Bank of Kuwait, NatWest Consulting, PowerGen, Procter & Gamble, Reuters, Riggs AP Bank, Standard Life, Visa International; to name a few.

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is not a library building - it is a modern-day monument to the seamless marriage of architectural brilliance and engineering excellence. Built by a JV alliance of Balfour Beatty and Arab Contractors of Egypt for the Egyptian Ministry of Education, the $117.5 million contract has been recognised as the catalyst of urban regeneration for the sea port and holiday resort of Alexandria.

Designed by the Snohetta/Hamza Consortium, its breath-taking form outshone 523 entries in an international competition, convincing the Egyptian Government that it would be unrivalled in its reflection of the library's former glory in a 21st Century context. But the triumph of the Bibliotheca is as much about conquering cultural challenges as it is about engineering feats, and it is this aspect of the project that makes it truly worthy of being labelled "the ultimate architectural icon."

Ancient Concept, Modern Context
The dominant element of the Bibliotheca is an enormous open-plan reading room with 2,500 places that cascade down seven terraces, making it the largest library reading room in the world. The "wow" factor is etched deep into the facade of this mesmerising building, with several engineering firsts, including the world's largest all-round diaphragm wall, sunk to a depth of 35m and reinforced by a continuous ring beam. Be it a rising sun, a microchip wafer, a mosque with an infinite number of columns...there's a symbol for everyone at the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina!

Design Detail
The main library building is circular in plan (160m diameter) and consists of a reinforced concrete frame commencing 4 storeys below ground and a roof that slants up from its main entrance on the Corniche to a height of 32m. The outer wall is embossed with random, scrambled examples of letters and pictograms from alphabets around the world and on the western side, a suspended black spherical planetarium, representing the moon, has been constructed to recall the observatory attached to the ancient library of Alexandria. Papyrus has been strategically planted in and around a newly constructed moat like a reflecting pool in which the giant building appears to float.

Rewarding Excellence
Recently, the Bibliotheca has been shortlisted for an International Award hosted by the British Construction Industry (BCI). Earlier this year, it secured top honours in the face of stiff competition, by sweeping the Quality in Construction (QIC) International Performance of the Year Award for 2001.