Library at Berlin Free University

Address: Habelschwerdter Allee 45 | BERLIN | Germany | Visit Website
Latitude/Longitude: 52.4519, 13.2883

Since the end of World War II the Free University has occupied a central role in the intellectual life of Berlin. As one of the city’s most symbolically important institutions, its foundation marked the rebirth of liberal education there after the war. Today, with more than 39,000 students, it is the largest of Berlin’s three universities. This redevelopment scheme includes the restoration of its Modernist buildings and the design of a new library on the campus.

The University’s mat-like campus was designed by Candilis Josic Woods Schiedhelm, and when the first phase was completed in 1973 it was hailed as a milestone in university design. The facade was designed in collaboration with Jean Prouve, following Le Corbusier’s Modulor proportional system. It was fabricated from Corten steel, which when used in appropriate thicknesses, has self-protecting corrosive characteristics. The rusty appearance of these buildings led to the affectionate nickname of die Rostlaube – the rust-bucket. However, in the slender sections used by Prouv the steel was prone to decay, which by the late 1990s had become extensive. As part of a comprehensive process of renewal the old cladding has been replaced with a new system detailed in bronze, which as it patinates with age – emulates the details and colour tones of the original.

The new library for the Faculty of Philology occupies a site created by uniting six of the University’s courtyards. Its four floors are contained within a naturally ventilated, bubble-like enclosure, which is clad in aluminium and glazed panels and supported on steel frames with a radial geometry. An inner membrane of translucent glass fibre filters the daylight and creates an atmosphere of concentration, while scattered transparent openings allow momentary views of the sky and glimpses of sunlight. The bookstacks are located at the centre of each floor, with reading desks arranged around the perimeter. The serpentine profile of the floors creates an edge pattern in which each floor swells or recedes with respect to the one above or below it, generating a sequence of generous, light-filled spaces in which to work. Amusingly, the library’s cranial form has already earned it a nickname of its own The Berlin Brain.

⇒ Architecture Guide to BERLIN