Book Mountain . Spijkenisse

MVRDV . photos: © jeroen musch . + dezeen

The new public library with a surface of 10,000 m² will be an example of energy efficiency and advertise reading through its design of a book mountain.

The new public library for Spijkenisse near Rotterdam is a long bookshelf spiraling up creating a mountain of books, covered by a glass shell the visibility of the books will act as beacon for accessibility of literature and information.
The 10,000m2 building will be an example of sustainable technology, MVRDV also designs a small neighbourhood adjacent to the library.

Dutch public libraries used to be accommodated in buildings looking like sports halls, schools or other socio-cultural institutes: often squat boxes of brickwork with a window here and there, and a modest recess to mark the entrance. Built in an era when libraries were regarded as unmotivated, socialist storage boxes.

What is the role of the contemporary library in an age of competition with the Internet, with cut-price bookstores and with Amazon? Can it promote itself, and if so, can it restore an active role?
What kind of building initiates this kind of reactivation? Can a library ‘open’ itself up and show itself to the outside world, without losing sight of practical difficulties? Spijkenisse is a classic suburb of Rotterdam, the city of unparalleled individualism. Can we realize here the most visible, the most ‘public’ library possible? Can we realize a library that legitimizes its position and forms a worthy cultural beacon in the young city?
A magnificent shop window for knowledge, information and culture that unambiguously promotes the idea of reading – day and night.

The programmed space has a tense relationship with the urban envelope. It threatens to frustrate the original intentions: a multi-story space is no longer possible; grandeur seems out of the question. They are no characteristics for public libraries anyway – or are they?
Taking maximal advantage of the envelope creates space. Utilizing the facade to a height of nine meters forms a connection with the adjacent buildings. Placing a sloping roof on top of this creates the maximum volume realizable, which opens up the possibility of building a prominent landmark in Spijkenisse.
The use of simple wooden trusses results in a gigantic free span within the set budget. It is an urban ‘shell’ within which the library functions can move freely. The outcome is a maximal literary space.

The Spijkenisse public library consists partly of a closed or closable program of spaces (the commercial spaces, the offices, the storage depots, the conference rooms, the mind-sports rooms, the auditorium, the toilets, etc.) and partly of public program (the reading room and the visible pride of the library, its collection).
Stacking the closable spaces on top of one another creates an intriguing vertical formation due to differences in size. The ground floor contains commercial space, the first floor the offices, the second floor the individual study sections and the mind-sports section, the fourth floor the terrace for exhibitions and events, and the fifth floor the technical rooms.
The terraces support the bookshelves, the reading areas, the desk and the public reading functions. Lining the walls of the terraces with shelves full of books produces a ‘mountain of books’. The walls can be used up to a height of 1,80m for the permanent collection. Above that height, they may optionally be used for archives, obsolete collections, signage, information, and technical equipment. Movable steps and platforms can provide access to these components.
The less public functions are hidden inside the mountain. The terraces can be linked by staircases to form a spiralling route around the mountain towards the top where a panoramic view of Spijkenisse awaits: a contemporary Tower of Babel. Niches in the mountain increase the area available for bookshelves. The niches also provide more intimate search spaces. Doors provide access to various functions inside the ‘mountain’. Windows shed light on those functions that need it.

Three circulation routes are present. The spiral allows arranging the books in a linear alphabetical order. There is a spine consisting of two elevators and two staircases making a floor-by-floor organization possible: a commercial floor, a floor for magazines and newspapers, a floor for children’s books, a floor for literature, a floor for reference works, and a historical floor. The mezzanine floors are provided with sloping ramps and chairlifts for wheelchair users. A series of additional stairways makes (thematic) cross-connections possible and encourage flexibility for the future.

Executing the shell in glass creates a climatic bell jar over the library. The effect almost that of an open-air library, the ultimate library perhaps. The bell jar is no more than a membrane, an almost invisible envelope. It softens the urban boundaries.
The bell jar can also be regarded as a climate-controlled public space. Solar protection (as used in glasshouses) and ventilation (by means of automatically and manually opening sections) will help ensure comfortable conditions in summer. For comfortable winter conditions, there will be under-floor heating, separate heating elements and double-paned glass.
Under the transparent bell jar, the library (partly open at night) faces out into the streets on all sides. This enhances public safety in the surrounding streets and alleys. Conversely, people in the street can observe activity inside the library, increasing its attractiveness to new users.

At dusk and in darkness, the library changes into an ‘enchanted mountain’. Reading lamps, lamps above the book cases and in the alcoves produce a hill of glittering lights. Tall street lights around the library add to the lighting of the interior and continue the public space from outside to inside. They also reduce the internal reflections from the glass envelope: when inside at night, you can also see the outside world.

Building the ‘mountain’ in stone achieves a number of aims. It continues the outdoor space and enters into a dialogue with the church; it presents a storage medium for heating and cooling; and it produces an easily cleanable indoor climate. Acoustic mats create “islands” on the clinker floor. Visually, the clinker brick finish of the mountain makes it bulge or rise up out of the paving of the church square.
The closable, rentable commercial spaces are located on the ground floor, making flexible usage conceivable. The plinth, also finished in stone, protects the building against the threat of graffiti or other forms of vandalism. It also places large parts of the library on a podium. It elevates culture: a piano nobile for literature and information.

Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs, Nathalie de Vries
Marc Joubert, Anet Schurink, Bart Spee, Jeroen Zuidgeest, Fokke Moerel, Stefan de Koning and Kai Kanafani and Ole Schröder
Design & Construction:
Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs, Nathalie de Vries
Fokke Moerel, Marc Joubert, Anet Schurink, Stefan de Koning, Marin Kulas, Anton Wubben and Sybren Boomsma

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