Denmark-based Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects‘ winning proposal for the international competition to design “Urban Mediaspace”, the largest public library in Scandinavia, is part of a wider plan to regenerate the old cargo docks on the harbour front in the Danish city of Aarhus. The building’s distinctive heptagonal-shape design will be a landmark in Aarhus. Urban Mediaspace is made up of two open plan levels, connected by a large easily accessible ramp.
The cantilevering roof plate is a dominant component of the architectural expression; during the day and especially in the evening, when the transparent façade allows the building to glow from the inside.
Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
+ Project description courtesy of Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
When two waves collide with each other it creates a disturbance. The energy within each wave interacts with the other which results either in a constructive, negative or neutralized burst of power. The meeting point, the point of interference, has the potential to create new and significantly more powerful waves.
Our society, its conditions, people and opportunities create the basis from which a first set of waves is released. The total amount of information within media, books, films, IT, exhibitions and people create the other. These waves are unpredictable, dependant on both global and local factors, AND THREREFORE they are constantly sent out with varying degrees of intensity.
The point where these two set of waves meet has the potential to be the birth place of innovative ideas, a melting pot for activities, new knowledge, play and meetings. However, this point needs a facilitator to secure that the interference takes on a positive direction – a Mediaspace that embraces and forms the basis for the processes released in the crossover between society and information. The Mediaspace challenges the balance of ingrained knowledge and old social orders and makes it possible for us to evolve in democratic and invaluable new directions.
The setting of Mediaspace on the borderline between the harbour and the city is also right at a point where two different urban powers meet. The interference created when the scale of the harbour and sea meet the community and urban life will provide the Mediaspace with an enormous energy and not only anchor the building in both settings but also mentally bridge the gap between urbanity and nature – between knowledge and physical experience.
THE MEDIASPACE FOR THE FUTURE
Once upon a time public libraries were quiet places with shelves filled with books supporting the enlightenment of the citizens. Today, libraries still contain books and facilitate free access to knowledge, but new media and functions have been added to the modern public library. Since year 2000, all library systems in Denmark are required to collect and communicate a wide range of other media than the book – CDs, DVDs and even software for computers. Furthermore, Danish public libraries have a long tradition for supporting other functions than enlightenment – for instance cultural events, social empowerment and services for small businesses. The library has become a Mediaspace with a diversity of offers to the public.
With a point of departure in the seven core values for The Mediaspace presented by Aarhus City Council, our contribution will focus on the following three keywords which surfaced during the intensive design development process:
Sustainability is a fourth keyword that runs through all aspects mentioned above.
Unity – a space for community and diversity
As a cultural institution the modern public library is both common and unique. It is common because it covers a wide spectrum both with regards to subject, genre, media and preferences for quality. And it is unique because all sections of society use the public library as it has something to offer to everyone. In other words the modern public library has an all-embracing and inclusive character. Our goal is to transfer these characteristics of the modern public library into the architecture and interior of the Mediaspace.
One of the major challenges has been to create a democratic landmark. First and foremost, the building has an open and inclusive character. A building that is not only an exclusive icon for Aarhus, but also a Mediaspace that will be used by all types of citizens for a multitude of purposes. A building completely visible from all directions and with 360 degree views out to different but equally exiting sceneries –sea, city, square, traffic, harbour, river, people.
Another important challenge has been to create a centre where people can come together, while their need for diversity and individual requirements can be met. Therefore, the Mediaspace has been divided into different zones. Some of these zones encourage users to be noisy and interact socially while other zones indicate that quiet contemplation is desired. However, the different zones have not been separated entirely because one important quality of the Mediaspace is the mix of group and individual needs, the diverse users and the many purposes of use. Moreover, contrasts have the potential to generate dynamics. Throughout the entire building contrasts will be mixed – for instance open and dedicated areas, light and dark spaces, colourful and muted sections.
Development – on different levels
The Mediaspace can support development in many ways. For the individual user it is obvious that the library can help develop skills and add to knowledge. And because the library is used by many different people it can also help develop social connections. This is why some parts of the Mediaspace are intended to be meeting places – we call these areas “social magnets”. These are places that invite users to interact with each other. Through this, the Mediaspace has the potential to maintain and strengthen the local identity of Aarhus, particularly because the Mediaspace is a democratic landmark.
Finally, the Mediaspace can be an active agent in the development of the local economy. The local economies today are in rapid transition, moving from bases of manufacturing and service industries to information and idea industries. This shift in the local economies requires highly educated and technologically-skilled employees. A task the new Mediaspace can support successfully.
Knowledge – a key to growth and democracy
With point of departure in the above, knowledge is a central keyword for the Mediaspace. But free access to knowledge is not only a contribution to strong local economy. A headline grabbing Mediaspace promoting free access to knowledge is a strong statement in itself. Knowledge is today more valuable than ever, and a local community that highly prioritizes a state of the art library symbolizes democracy and a clear vision for the future.
Years ago knowledge was often associated with books, classrooms and hard focused work. In our vision for the new Mediaspace, we offer a broader interpretation of knowledge. In our point of view it is still hard work to acquire, understand and contextualize knowledge, but it also overlaps with play, experiences and physical activity. The Mediaspace is therefore not only shelves and media in a rational universe; it is also a flexible space for contemplation, inspiration, communication and innovation.
Sustainability – the social dimension
A sustainable Mediaspace involves many dimensions. There are environmental considerations and construction costs, but sustainability has a social dimension as well. The three described keywords – UNITY, DEVELOPMENT and KNOWLEDGE – have all embodied elements of the social dimension of sustainability. As described, the Mediaspace is not only a media collection, it is an intermediary tool: Connecting the waterfront with the city, gathering cultural diverse groups and bridging people with knowledge and technology. Therefore, this Mediaspace becomes an important framework for an inclusive and dynamic community in Aarhus.
THE MEDIASPACE – PART OF THE CREATIVE KNOWLEDGE CITY
Both internationally and nationally, we are witnessing an increasing focus on urban development, local strategies for growth and policies on how a city or a region can create its image, establish a position, and place itself on the map. At the same time, we increasingly look at urban development as a continuous process in which openness, creativity and local anchoring are key concepts. Experience shows that the public library can be an essential factor in this process, and that the Mediaspace holds a great potential for the city: The public library is a neutral and democratic place open to everyone. The public library can raise the general level of knowledge due to its technology, materials and communication. And the public library can create local identity due to its manifold of cultural activities. Furthermore, as an icon-building it can provide the city with an architectonic marked character and a attraction value that reach far beyond its significance for the local users. Merely taking a look at the many new libraries being built all over the world prove that these are very distinctive landmarks and placemakers which significantly contribute to local development strategies.
The famous American economist and urban developer Richard Florida has created a so-called “index of creativity”. In brief this is a way of measuring a city’s ranking of, what Florida describes as “the three T’s”: Talent, Tolerance and Technology. According to Florida, the existence of these ingredients is essential to urban development and growth. It is worth mentioning that those cities which rank among the highest on the index of creativity are in most cases cities which have built new and headline grabbing libraries.
The synergy between the city and the Mediaspace
It has been of the greatest importance for us not to look at the Mediaspace merely as a place for individual development, learning, concentration and reflection. On the contrary, the Mediaspace has a fantastic potential for contributing to dynamic, creative and innovative development in Aarhus. The Mediaspace will contain knowledge, technology, and space for fantasy and innovation, where talent and competence can thrive.. And last but not least the Mediaspace will attract people who are open-minded, curious and eager to learn – people who are interested in interacting with each other and their community. It has been our intention to create an architecture which emphasizes this and incorporates and supports the synergy between the Mediaspace and the city in the best way.
A Katrinebjerg for everybody
It is a general agreement that we live in a society in which knowledge is valued as the most important resource. This is the case economically, democratically and culturally as well as individually and socially. Aarhus is a city that shows significant progressive signals in terms of education, knowledge and research. And the strategy of Aarhus as the innovative knowledge city of the future will in a definitive way transform Aarhus from an industrial city to a knowledge city on an international scale.
The creation of the IT-growth centre Katrinebjerg in 1999 was a major step in this direction. At present Katrinebjerg is a unique, interactive and creative environment in which different traditions and different interests join forces to create new knowledge. The strategy is to further develop this power centre into an environment for innovation on an international level, based on the dynamic interaction of research institutions and private companies.
We regard the Mediaspace as the next major step. With point of departure in materials, information technology, innovative ways of communication and the core values in our project – UNITY, DEVELOPMENT and KNOWLEDGE – the Mediaspace will be a democratic, informal and open house for culture and learning. It is our vision to create “a Katrinebjerg for everybody” , the new environment for innovation in which the citizen is in focus.
A space for sharing of knowledge and creative opportunities
The setting of the Mediaspace on the waterfront can be seen as a symbolic transformation from industrial society to knowledge society. Just as the harbour was once a very important centre for transport and commerce it now becomes the centre for creativity and synergy. In other words, the placement of the Mediaspace is an ideal point of departure for urban development in general and our vision in particular. We have chosen to emphasize this with an architecture that creates an outstanding visual connection to the city – both from within and out. Thus, we wish to create an icon for the knowledge society which articulates and stimulates creative collaboration and networking.
In this perspective a very important element is the optional area. We have chosen to suggest the use of this area to provide space for initiatives which have an explicit purpose in developing and supporting the potential dynamic between the Mediaspace and the city. This area can provide space for experimental and outward-looking activities which stimulate collaboration across institutions, organisations, associations, companies and sectors within culture, knowledge, education and commerce. This use of the area will be a major intensification of the infrastructure of the city concerning the sharing of knowledge and creative opportunities for artists, creative industries, new cultural environments and common citizens. In other words: A tangible way to facilitate new platforms and meeting places.
Brief description on the main concept for the master plan.
In the winning competition entry from 1991 as well as in the master plan for the urban harbour front from 2003 the overall guidelines indicate a strategy towards the water, – a total effort to ensure a good interplay between city, harbour and bay. This master plan follows upon the main gestures, both the recreational connection that runs north-south along the city, as well as the creation of a large cohesive urban harbour square with a central location, next to the cathedral, facing a great central water basin in between transformed piers and larger bastions, the southern bastions as the media space.
In the process of re-establishing a harbour area as a city waterfront we have reread the land- and waterscape into 3 main headlines: converted into diagrams they serve as handling operation for the disposition of the master plan and the architectonic gestures.
- a joined north-south green line that runs along the coast –
Both on the north and the south side of the city there are green forests that extend right into the sea. We want to simulate a connection by adding and blending this greenery right into the waterfront,. This is done by trees that run right along the train and cars . This connects to the ‘sportsrambla.’
- a visual contact across to the water in between the urban fabric –
Literally speaking we want to point out that the city and the waterfront must be ‘mended together’ from bastion to bastion. The sea views towards the water across the city through the urban fabric are important guidelines to produce and to point out in this new context, – now that the final retreat of large harbour buildings allows overall sight at the bay and water.
- an urban quayside surrounded by the city alongside the water –
We must point out that one of the most important features in the concept of a new quay is the overall sense that the city surrounds the inner basin of the bay. We transform the quays and piers and rearrange the waterfront according to these guidelines in the master plan program, – but with easy access to the water overall.
THE NEW URBAN HARBOUR SITE
The concept of SUPERNORMAL: Today’s agenda is sustainability; our job is to give credible answers by which the Harbour site holds ideas towards sustainability. Supernormal is a term borrowed which refers to the fact that we advance by knowledge and skills already in use, which we can prolong and renew towards deeper understanding of the conditions, – and hereby seek beauty. The term incorporates a critique on our tendency to either seek romantic or fantastic dream wear instead of profound solutions, – which in fact trivialize the whole concept of sustainability. Instead we reread the conditions and pick up the possibilities of a city space that holds orientation and motivation of sustainability.
The Architectural Scheme.
The main concept for the new urban Harbour site plan is a follow-up on the master plan. The architectural program act on the site according to the space, – the space ‘empties’ near to the water edge contradicting the ‘fullness’ at the city edge. The disposition of the plan consists of elements that over layers with the surface and creates a vibrant new park, for contemporary urban life:
SURFACE: The existing surface is regarded as a ready-made. We are very keen on the issues of function for any kind of public use, both small and large events, and this surface will be useful for all sorts of activities. A main feature in this design is to organise a contrast or clash between something utterly new and something old and reused.
Q-SIDE: In the direction along the water, the existing and partly new quays gives space for a boardwalk right at the water as a new quayside, where there is easy access to the water by large wooden stairs at two points, – in between the bastion the space and surface is organised towards the water by the quayside.
THE STRIP: Trees are planted to join the green line running in the north-south direction along the coast,which relate to the green beech forests to the north and the south of the city. This part designated for recreational use is linked programmatically to sports and leisure and is architectonically organised as a ‘rambla’ which is a ‘hybrid’ form of plaza and walkway, with trees, which serves as a long recreational promenade were all the activities can be linked to. We have organised this entire strip as a ‘walk of points’, were the strip literally speaking is a collection of points.
PIERS: But there is also another contradicting direction – the direction from the city towards the water. To obtain visual contact from the urban front to the water, and to allow the views towards the water in between the urban fabric, we have done a construction of bright new piers, both raised and level. These piers point directly to the water and zigzag right over the surface. Lliterally speaking we want the city and water to be ‘mended together’, – as that in the background and the other in the front. The piers are site-specific and the layout is perfectly organized on exact site-views from the urban fabric right along the ‘Kystvejen’.
NEW MEDIASPACE – NEW SIGNALS
Openness is the word that best describes our design for the new Mediaspace. it is embedded in all three key words that define our project – UNITY, DEVELOPMENT, KNOWLEDGE. Unity can only be achieved when the individual opens up their mind to the thoughts and actions of others. Development naturally needs openness to expand mentally and as well as physically. Knowledge needs an open and curious mind to take it in.
Openness is also interpreted literally in our proposal. The large glazed facade ensures visual integration between the interior and the surroundings – the city and the water. The vibrant urban life of Aarhus city continues right into this information storehouse, and the accumulated knowledge within radiates back to the city. The open plan solution and the visual connections between the various functions enable the visitors to be inspired and surprised by information they encounter on their journey, in some cases information they did not set out to look for . Openness stimulates social interaction and exchange of knowledge.
The new Mediaspace will become a new and lively place for people of all generations with various interests. In order to achieve this goal, we push an architectural concept forward where different activities and zones in the building interfuse and interflow.
Large glass screens will allow views inside and outside the generously open space of the library. Different types of glass will be used in these screens: transparent, translucent and printed glazing will regulate light intensity, openness and intimacy of the reading areas while providing the best possible conditions for the readers. At night the light filled volume of the Mediaspace will animate the nocturnal skyline along the harbour front and become a sparkling landmark for the city.
From the very beginning of the design process the concept of integrating the life of the Mediaspace with the surroundings was a key driver, also because one of our intentions was to connect the new central urban harbour space with the Aarhus River using Mediaspace. spatial interplay between inside and outside integrates rather than separates the very diverse urban landscapes which are so fascinating at this site. The new Mediaspace is therefore not only a place of encounter for people but also a place of intersection for the landscape of the contemporary city, the old centre, the industrial harbour and the open surface of the water.
Internally the ground floor is an extension of the external grounds. Central in the building it lifts up as a giant ramp saturated with books to connect the two floors that compose the public part of the Mediaspace. The different zones of the library and the new functions are visually connected and purpose designed furniture is used to activate the different zones and create different atmospheres – lively children’s areas as well as quiet reading zones or state of the art IT workshops.
Our ambition has been to create a Mediaspace, no longer as an institution exclusively dedicated to books, but as an information store, where all media – new and old – are presented. In an age where information can be accessed anywhere, it is this simultaneity of all media, the interaction between and the professionalism of their presentation and communication, that will make this Mediaspace new and unique.
The overall experience when facing the new Mediaspace creates a very simple image of a large roof plate floating above a raised urban square – the bastion. The covered area that emerges underneath the roof will form a new urban typology in Aarhus. An open indoor space that holds all the qualities of an outdoor square and at the same time has the climate of an indoor zone. The roof disc is cantilevered out from the façade to make it the dominant architectural feature both at daytime and at night, when the inner spaces are lit and the total openness of the glazed facades is even more visible. At daytime triangular sunscreens pay tribute to history of the sailing boats that have been so important to this place all the way back from the time of the Vikings.
The bastion is part of the urban floor spreading from the new harbour square into the city. At this point the floor is raised by inclining triangular shapes to form the southern part of the two main bastions framing the new large water space that are an important part of the overall master plan.
The building is constructed around a simple orthogonal grid of vertical cores and columns. Diagonal lines, which correspond to the way the surface of the bastion was treated, transverse the horizontal slabs and the roof plate. The combination of the regular setting of the columns and the irregular shapes makes for a vibrant spatial experience and furthermore the terracing of the decks on several levels ensures rich visual connections between activities on every floor.
The top floor appears as a deep roof plate. It is penetrated by a series of skylights and internal library gardens distributed in a pixel-like pattern that corresponds to the orthogonal grid of the columns. This ensures good day lighting in the very centre of the Mediaspace all the way down to the entrance level and creates visual lines of sight between the floors.
The very large ramp containing a vast part of the media collection connects the ground floor to the upper levels and literally brings the books down to the public and leads the way up towards new information.
The inside of the new Mediaspace has a light and spacious atmosphere. The overall openness is contrasted by various specially designed furniture pieces that act as containers for information, play and reading areas, room dividers and as shelter for areas of quiet contemplation. Hanging from the ceiling are large art pieces or light drops that sometimes break though several floors and connect the different zones vertically. These serve as points of orientation for visitors moving around and mark areas of special activities. The openness connects the space to the surroundings and creates a democratic and inspiring atmosphere. The furniture, internal gardens, oasis and artwork bring human scale to the scheme.
The new Mediaspace has a strong iconic value. It contributes actively to its surroundings and its open and inviting character excites curiosity and signals to the city that this is a place of interest – where exciting activities take place. The building maintains the public and open characteristic that already exists at the site today and contributes a new layer of contemporary urban life to it. It exposes its interiority and creates an exceptional experience for visitors and passers by, where architecture and function unite in a whole.
The image of the new Mediaspace burns a strong mark in the memory of anyone seeing it from any direction – city, harbour square, sea or air.
THE VISITOR – FLOW
The new Mediaspace is not only placed right at the intersection of several main traffic arteries that lead the visitors to the arrival centre, but also acts as an important juncture between the flow of people coming from the city centre along the river and the new public route along the harbour across the new square.
Whether coming from either one of these directions or ascending from underneath the urban square which is elevated above the parking facilities and railway platform, the visitors will enter the Mediaspace at the foot of the large main ramp where the media collection starts. The media collection forms the centre of a spiralling movement that leads visitors up first by means of a ramp and then stairs to the upper levels of the Mediaspace. From this central flow the visitors can move out towards the quieter areas along the facade to immerse themselves in the information they have collected.
Throughout the building, it is envisioned that the visitors will have constant contact to the 360 degree views to the outside and the extensive visual connections between the different internal zones will inspire them´ to seek new and unexpected knowledge.
People moving along the harbour or coming from the city towards the water will use the Mediaspace as a shortcut. The café and citizens service area at the entrance level will break down the boundary between inside and outside and between traditional library services and new functions. The visitor will experience an open democratic and inspiring atmosphere that promotes UNITY, KNOWLEDGE and DEVELOPMENT.
Working at the new Mediaspace will be a new experience as well. The librarians will be exposed in the same way as the media is. They will not only function as mediators between information and the public, but will also be the key actors who work collaboratively with groups and individuals on projects, and hence contribute to the expansion of the common knowledge of our society. Information is not only communicated from the Mediaspace to people but also gathered from the visitors by the people working in the building.
The librarians will have circular stations spread around in the interior “landscape where they will mainly operate from, but they will also take advantage of the many in-between spaces where they casually can inform and stimulate, where the interface between different interests is organized – spaces for work, reading interaction and play .
The administration and breakout areas are all placed on the top floor separated from public areas to ensure a calm and relaxing atmosphere. Close visual connections to the Mediaspace are maintained through the roof lights cutting through the roof plate.
The new Mediaspace building is functionally structured as a fully open and flexible space on two overlapping floors connected with a large internal ramp and set vertically between the bastion and an inhabited roof deck containing the administration and the optional area.
The open plan solution allows great flexibility and by avoiding a rigid division between net and gross areas, it is possible to use spaces allocated to circulation much more effectively. Circulation zones are integrated in the spatial experience and not fixed by walls and doors. This of course demands a greater attention to be placed on interior layouts, furniture, room dividers and art in order to achieve different atmospheres, good acoustics and interiors that relate themselves to human scale.
The bastion works as a continuation of the new Urban Harbour Square connecting the Mediaspace into the city fabric. The surface of the city is folded up to a level of approximately 5 m. to cross the barrier of the trajectories and ensures easy and unbroken connections for visitors. The inclined plane not only accommodates the flow of people, but also creates informal breakout areas with seating and stairs from which one can explore the horizon or the busy life by the River of Aarhus. The bastion contains the parking area, railway platform, storage and technical facilities.
The arrival centre is a fully integrated part of the building which is pushed out to so that it is fully visible when viewed form either side of the traffic corridor running in the north-south direction. The centre connects the plane of the city to the new elevated bastion. The visitor ascends from the heavy traffic on the lower level to the Mediaspace by means of escalators. The transition is not from dynamic to calm, but from a particular kind of dynamic to another – from physical movement to information flow.
At the entrance level, the shop, campaign activities, café / multipurpose hall, children’s theatre, citizen’s service, collection and return area and lounges and meeting zones surround the central square / lobby with the reception in the centre. There are views all the way around and a close contact to the outdoors on the bastion. Some of these activity zones are sheltered by the level above or the roof level, and therefore also functional in different weather conditions. The large media ramp starts at this central point of the building and draws people to the upper levels.
The upper floor is split up into three terraced levels with large stairs in between that can be used for seating as well. This provides a natural zoning while maintaining visual contact. Approx. 3000 square meters of optional area on this floor is reserved for the use of the Mediaspace. The media which fills the ramp continues around the centre of the floor along the main circulation route. From here towards the façade are situated tween’s area, children’s library, pc-workplaces, living room and scriptorium to keep the general structure of media and movement towards the centre, and allowing a higher degree of specialisation the further out one comes towards the periphery. Throughout the floor, oases and study cells are distributed.
The deep floor deck receives daylight through large roof lights some of which provide light to levels lying even further below through rectangular openings in the floor.
Top level – roof plate
The floor contained within the roof plate is accessed by any of the ten cores distributed around the building, which also service the rest of the building down to basement level. The administration for both Mediaspace and citizens service located on this level have access to magnificent views. The layout is organized in an open plan solution around gardens and roof lights. Dividing walls are glazed to keep the overall impression of openness. Visual contact to the Mediaspace is also possible through the openings in the floor.
The larger part of the top floor is reserved for the optional area. We envision this space will be used for offices, atelier or workshop spaces for upcoming knowledge based businesses and research groups that can take advantage of this close relationship to the Mediaspace, and contribute to the exchange of information that can add to the Mediaspace’s vibrant atmosphere. This way the Mediaspace can literally be a generator for the future development of Aarhus.
The flexible open floor plan can of course also accommodate different institutions, exhibitions or public functions that will benefit from coexistence with the Mediaspace.
+ Project credits / data
Project: Urban Mediaspace
Location: Europaplads, Århus, Denmark
Area: 30.000 m2 above ground and 30.000 m2 subterranean parking
Construction Sum: € 228 million / £ 203 million
Construction year: 2011-14
Competition year: 2008-09
Competition type: Restricted international
Award: 1st prize
Client: Århus Municipality and Realdania
Architect: Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
Landscape architect: Kristine Jensens Tegnestue (DK)
Engineer: Alectia Consulting Engineers (DK)
Other consultants: Artists Bosch& Fjord (DK), The Danish School of Librarians by Dr. art Henrik Jochumsen og Dr. art Casper Hvenegaard Rasmussen