25 Jan 2022

The Cologne Central Library was an avant-garde establishment when opened in the late 1970s. However, it is now in need of technical renovation and revitalization. With a diverse set of users and an evolving library role, a new interior design (completion 2027) will align with the concept of a community lab. As described by Dutch painter Willem de Kooning, “I have to change to stay the same”, the library will shine the spotlight on its users’ diversity, strengthening its role as a non-commercial third place. The Dutch architectural bureaus includi, led by Creative Director Aat Vos, and MARS Interieurarchitecten, in collaboration with the German bureau Pell Architekten, have been commissioned for the library’s large-scale transformation.

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    In multifaceted Cologne, Germany’s fourth-largest city, the streets and squares are filled with buildings from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. So too is the Zentralbibliothek – the flagship of Stadtbibliothek Köln – with its distinctive brutalist architecture from 1979. A strong architectural ceiling lattice with integrated lighting forms a striking ‘grid’ of the 14,500 m² library building and intentionally evokes the image of an open bookshelf. The Central Library is also part of the ‘Kulturquartier’ (a cultural hub) near the centrally located Neumarkt: In the immediate vicinity of several museums, galleries and the Adult Education Center.

    Inspiration from international transformation

    After decades, it was time for a complete renovation. Inspired by the transforming international library landscape, the Cologne City Library, for which includi had already designed the City District Kalk Library, decided to collaborate with the office again. Includi designed the interior and its underlying concept (design planning / HOAI performance phase 3), also handling artistic direction for the interior and lighting. MARS Interieurarchitekten and the Cologne-based architecture firm Pell Architekten are the partners who are elaborating the implementation planning (HOAI service phase 5-8).

    Dr. Hannelore Vogt, Director Cologne City Library, tells: “The central library is a unique third place for people in our urban society: It is a place of social infrastructure and thus a model for strengthening social cohesion and equal access to knowledge for the citizens.”

    Five kilometers of media plus seats

    An important step in making an even better connection with the city is the re-clustering and repositioning of the five kilometers of media. The book collection previously blocked the view of the city and its inhabitants. This design chooses to make people, and especially faces, as visible as possible when approaching the library. Every room meets the requirements in terms of dimensions and design, with particular attention paid to the accessibility of the building so that disabled people are not restricted in any way in their visits to the library. These design choices make the library an open, uncluttered and accessible place for everyone – with stunning new views of the surroundings, in particular thanks to a newly created rooftop-turned-terrace.

    There will also be more than double the number of seats and lounging opportunities available. This increase in seating is a much-needed update: Currently, the library is used so intensively for meeting, reading, studying and working that queues often form at the door.

    The interior design strongly references the city of Cologne. A versatile place where every resident feels welcome to relax, work or learn. “The library has already changed its role for a long time: The focus is no longer on media, but on the needs of the people. They stay here to work, meet and share their knowledge. Now the interior design should make this role tangible for people living in the big city. The redesign visibly transforms the library into the social meeting place that invites people to linger,” explains Aat Vos, Creative Director at includi. 

    A floor for all occasions…and a nod to Kolumba

    The atmosphere and style will reflect the colorful and the multifaceted character of the library. Each of the six floors is a translation of this strong identity into different themes and target groups. 

    Upon entering the building, visitors walk into a warm and inviting café that, with its urban feel, brings the city inside. In addition to non-fiction media, the basement also houses the special facilities “Germania Judaica” and the “Literature in Cologne Archive” with Heinrich Böll’s study – there are also opportunities for special exhibitions here.

    On the first floor, you enter a world of imagination and discovery with many free spaces and playful alcoves that are fully equipped for young and school-age children. A special feature of the second floor is the reflection space. Here, natural elements and materials dominate, referring with a wink to the special architecture of Kolumba, the famous Cologne art museum designed by Peter Zumthor.

    The third floor has an entirely different kind of dynamic. The Makerspace immediately catches the eye with its bright yellow colors, alternating with different workplaces and meeting rooms that are available to the public. On the fourth floor, you will mainly experience a living room with roof top feeling: A comfortably furnished space with fresh air, catering facilities and a music room with a grand piano open for practice sessions and even apt to host small piano concerts. On the newly created roof terrace you can enjoy the view of the cityscape with a cup of coffee.

    In short, Cologne Central Library will be an upgraded metropolitan library that reflects the city’s pluriformity for each and every individual to feel at home.

    The design phase will soon be concluded, the renovations begin in 2022. Offering a fresh (point of) view of Cologne and its inhabitants, the new city library is set to be reopened in 2027.

    Project credits

    Client: Gebäudewirtschaft der Stadt Köln in collaboration with Stadtbibliothek Köln
    Project lead: Marita Rautenberg
    Planning area: 6,500 m2
    Opening: 2027

    Interior design, concept (Entwurfsplanung / HOAI Leistungsphase 3), design of the “experiences” and art-direction interior and lighting (Künstlerische Oberleitung): includi (team: Aat Vos, Hélène IJsselstijn)
    Development of design / technical engineering (Ausführungsplanung / HOAI Leistungsphase 5-8): MARS Interieurarchitecten & Pell Architekten
    Lighting design and lighting engineering: BÜRO ANDRES & PARTNER, Arne Hülsmann
    Project management: Tobias Kinle, Obermeyer

    Building development/renovation and architecture: PASD
    3D images: courtesy of Gebäudewirtschaft der Stadt Köln, design: MARS Interieurarchitecten, includi, Pell Architekten


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