30 Aug 2021

How do you design a library that caters to the needs and desires of its youngest visitors? By
offering a ton of opportunities for expression and learning, and topping it all off with an
appealing mix of both familiar and unexpected design elements. In Gütersloh, Germany, the
newly opened Liz-Mohn-Children’s Library of the City Library has achieved this extraordinary
blend. The redesign of the Children’s Library continues a long-standing tradition and is the
kick-off of a larger re-positionings proccess.

    Please read our privacy and cookie policy to understand how we collect and use the data you provide by submitting this form.

    The City Library is located in the historical heart of the North Rhine-Westphalian city of Gütersloh. Opening its doors in 1984 as a gift from Gütersloh entrepreneur and founder of Bertelsmann Stiftung, Reinhard Mohn, the Gütersloh City Library once represented a milestone in the library world. Mohn – the late founder of the Bertelsmann Stiftung – was determined the library should not be just another “magnificent building”, but above all functional and user-friendly. This concept was revolutionary at the time. The Gütersloh City Library has since been cited as one of the first examples of modern library architecture in Europe. 


    Forward-looking and up-to-date in terms of media, the focus of the Gütersloh City Library is on its social function: a café in its center invites Gütersloh residents not only to borrow books and much more, but also to linger and engage in conversation, similar to a marketplace. The interior of the library is now getting on in years and requires fundamental modernization. This extensive renewal will catapult the great Gütersloh City Library into its next life cycle of many. A generous donation was made by Bertelsmann SE to mark the birthday of Liz Mohn, Bertelsmann owner and wife of the late founder. The aim was to kick off this re-positioning process by first redesigning the Children’s Library of Gütersloh City Library in the basement. The aim was to do this in a way that caters to the 21st century needs and wishes of its patrons – the first piece of a larger mosaic. 


    During extensive Design Workshops, the aatvos team, along with the library team, focused on how to make a library visit a truly special and memorable experience. “When conceptualizing the new design of the Children’s Library, we carefully considered the potential of also applying its core principles to the rest of the building”, explains Aat Vos, Creative Director at aatvos. “We zoomed in on the Children’s Library with the entire City Library in the back of our minds at any given moment. Only such a holistic approach could lead us to sustainable results.” Continuing on this path, the Gütersloh library team also embarked on a Design Thinking journey to dive deeper into understanding their users, which was led by trainer and library consultant Julia Bergmann. How could the Children’s Library cater to the joys of moving, playing, and learning for children aged zero to twelve… and make everyone want to see more? 


    Like a beehive, the new Children’s Library is to be characterized by constant buzz and movement. It is a docking station for learning and experiencing new things: There is always something going on here, new ideas to discover, new friendships to make. A walk through the Children’s Library is designed like a discovery journey through wonderland. It is inspired by the structure of a classical drama. In this pyramidal structure, which goes back to the German writer and literary scholar Gustav Freytag, the rising action is followed by the story’s climax and the falling action. These principles served to ensure the young visitors are not overwhelmed. “In this way, we created a pleasant balance between familiar and unexpected elements and provide just the right amount of stimulation for the guests of the Liz-Mohn-Children’s Library,” explains Hélène IJsselstijn, Interior Architect at aatvos. 


    In the basement all bookshelves are placed along the walls. Although they convey familiar impressions in the form of books, magazines, and other media, they also provide the first clues as to where the journey may lead: With wooden legs and extensions at the top in creative shapes and colors, the bookshelves look like a mysterious fairytale forest. Another special feature is that they are set at some distance from the wall, providing children places to hide. Green felt behind the bookcases not only has an acoustic effect, but is also pleasantly soft to sit against. The deeper you venture inside the new Children’s Library, the more there is to discover: colorful cocoons in various shapes to cuddle up in, bird’s nests made out of wicker, and an event space with an amphitheater. There is also a lounging pool set into the ground, water-free of course, filled instead with comfy cushions and plenty of padding. This snuggly setting encourages reading and dreaming. Finally, playful colors and a gradient paint job add seemingly endless depth and spaciousness. 


    With its open connection between the inside and outside, the new interior design invites the young citizens of Gütersloh to discover the freshly enchanted Liz-Mohn-Children’s Library from afar. The basement is similarly openly connected to the first floor. Here, you find a gallery where you get the feeling of being high up in the trees. Furthermore, there is an area for students to play board games and do homework. All in all, the new Children’s Library is not only ready for its next life cycle but also functions as a flagship that is connected to the special tradition of the Gütersloh City Library and creates an appetite for more. “During the workshops with the aatvos team, we came to understand the true potential of our library as a place for and with people,” recalls Silke Niermann, head of the Gütersloh City Library. “With the Liz-Mohn-Children’s Library, we are continuing a tradition that has existed since its founding and reviving the spirit of this particular City Library.” 


    The interior architecture of the children’s library of the Gütersloh City Library is based upon a vision that aatvos developed together with the client as well as trainer and library consultant Julia Bergmann over the course of a Design Workshop. Strategy, Design, Art-Direction: aatvos (team: Aat Vos, Hélène IJsselstijn, Eunice Ma) General contractor: Team Stonepark Design thinking: Julia Bergmann Training & Consulting Photography: Marco Heyda/aatvos 


      Please read our privacy and cookie policy to understand how we collect and use the data you provide by submitting this form.


        Please read our privacy and cookie policy to understand how we collect and use the data you provide by submitting this form.