1 URBAN CONDITIONS
Aims and aspirations
Urbanistically the scheme should play a major, positive, role in, and give life to the urban
context. It should illustrate the remaining potential of the competition site(s), be commercially
viable and provide a clear attitude to phasing. The design should acknowledge and respect the
proximity to, and presence of the new opera building and the “commons”.
Contextually the project should respect an important sightline; that is the building should not
interrupt the line of sight between the corner of Østbanehallen and the breaking point on the
roof of the Opera.
On sites A8 and A9 the client in addition to the library, wants mixed use, human scale and public
functions everywhere on street level – the building(s) should generate activity all day; a meeting
It should be an open, and inviting cultural institution that appeals to the general public and not
just the privileged, and plays a leading role in the development of modern public libraries. It
should appeal to new user groups through new technology as well as encouraging traditional
reading. Information should be easily accessible and therefore be organised around the user’s
needs for services, rather than according to the needs of the (book) collection.
The design should be based on a clear and strong concept that is both modern and innovative,
functional and humanistic, and at the same time rational, flexible, efficient and economic as well
as sustainable and inclusive (inclusive design).
Civic gesture and economic reality
The new public library represents a major new city building and a significant civic gesture; freely
accessible public space with universally acknowledged social and educational rewards.
The wider project includes commercial development which underwrites the public building.
Economic prudence dictates a level of flexibility in approach to this development. The
commercial component should not be determined too early despite the fact that the less
uncertain requirements for a library have been fixed.
A clear demarcation between the library and commercial projects will provide clarity and
flexibility in the future development of the Diechmanske axis and ensure that the civic building
and the commercial development are not confused or compromised.
Urban development concept
The Library has been located on block A8 with the commercial development possibilities
maintained on block A9. This places the civic building in the location which seems most
appropriate – overlooking the Operaalmenningen, becoming part of and reinforcing the city’s
series of urban spaces leading from the Station to the Opera and Fjord.
The Library presents a simple but strong volumetric form which fills out the city block and firmly
delineates the new masterplan’s urban grain. The Library addresses Operaalmenningen with a
key street level façade, yet also accommodates the visual axis at higher level between the corner
of Ostbanehallen and the Opera. Its shape respects the planned position of the crossroad from
Opera Gate to Dronning Eufemias Gate to the east of the site by cantilevering above it to achieve
sufficient internal area.
As a result, the portion of block A9 available to commercial development has been maximised.
This will ensure that a variety of plan and phasing options can be considered and therefore
provide optimum commercial flexibility. Our project imagines two separate mixed use buildings
which fill the urban block while finding a balance between maximised area and ideal city grain.
The library is architecturally and functionally independent of the commercial development and
neither a compromise upon it, nor vice versa. This ensures the viability and sustainability of both.
2 ARCHITECTURAL FORM
The optimum position for the library is on a site with significant urban planning restrictions.
The plot size, associated Opera viewing corridor and the fixed road crossing the site combine
to dictate that the library must be arranged vertically. Our project attempts to overcome this
considerable challenge by incorporating a lively and informal internal topography.
A huge room at ground level accommodates the immediate public functions, providing lively
activities overlooking the surrounding streets and public space, creating an ambience of social
enjoyment and inclusion. The room is accessed from all of the surrounding streets. Side and top-
lit, it leads to an open lower level which contains additional social functions; exhibition space,
the auditorium, cinema, seminar and meeting spaces.
Library administration offices are located at first floor level, surrounding the lower public
floor. This provides straightforward adjacency to major service functions below and above
to the second floor where Reference Information Services are located. The second floor also
accommodates the Children’s section and a restaurant, both of which have access to a roof
deck at the south west.
Further public library functions are distributed across all of the 4 upper levels. A compact spine
containing the elevator and stair cores and the narrow access bookcases is surrounded by a
series of open internal balconies and terraces with a variety of scales, positions and views which
provide Reading Rooms, Lounges, Study Spaces as well as the distributed book racks, which all
overlook each other. The top floor provides a spectacular citizen’s penthouse containing further
informal library stacks and displays, a café lounge and a semi-exterior winter-garden reading
The shifting arrangement of irregular floor plates exist within as exterior envelope and provide
a wide variety of spaces. The stacked and cantilevered platforms, balconies and terraces,
accessible via a number of public vertical routes provide a wide variety of aspects and internal
views, an exciting spatial experience and a sense of life throughout the building.
The Library is an invigorating ‘mountain of knowledge’ and education, with panoramic views
of the city to the north west and the fjord to the south east. This landscape of stacked floors
provides an intriguing and theatrical setting for social engagement, a sculptural extension of the
city. The building skin helps to communicate the activity within.
The stepped and irregular floor plates, with their connecting staircases and escalators, are
enveloped by a double skin of opaque, transparent and translucent surfaces. Conceived as
almost monolithic, this simple volumetric form powerfully yet simply landmarks the new civic
building with a strong three dimensional form with a mutable surface character which transmits
a sense of openness, light and transparency. The design’s different frontages reflect a variety
of volumetric conditions and provide distinct approaches; city plaza, street entrances and
The transparent perimeter at the ground floor reveals the vibrancy of the activity within. At
upper levels, translucency and depth within the skin is provided by fixed mesh screens behind
the outer single glazing layer and in front of the internal thermal skin (which comprises both
glazed and opaque insulated panels). The mesh screens prevent solar gain and glare to the
interior whilst maintaining a high level of visual contact with the exterior. This layer also provides
a consistent exterior quality whilst concealing the variety of solid and transparent panels behind.
The upper façade is punctured by a series of large windows with mechanical sun shading, which
provide both transparent views out from key interior spaces and views of the activities within.
During the night and long Norwegian winters, the building will appear more permeable, the light
within emitting a lantern-like glow and further revealing the activities within.