Szczecin Public Library

Team: Irgen Salianji, Karolina Szóstkiewicz, Karolina Duda, Konstantina Lola
Status: Competition project
Location: Szczecin, Poland
Program: Library

Szczecin has emerged as one of the most innovative cities in Poland during the last two decades, by investing in its cultural and architectural future with important projects such as the new Philharmonic and the National Museum in the historic centre. The district of Prawobrzeże, however, lacks similar institutional and architectural buildings that can strengthen its identity and enrich its loose urban fabric with cultural services. The new Municipal Public Library can become an important reference point for Prawobrzeże and a significant gathering epicentre for the local residents and the metropolitan population of Szczecin at large. The design of the Library takes advantage of the strategic position, the connectivity and the qualities of the site to create a unique building and a rich public space that is strongly rooted in its context. The site of the Library becomes a central point in creating the missing links between Jarosława Iwaszkiewicza street and the Catholic Church, as well as intensifying the public program and establishing a human scale in the entire area.


Modern libraries have lost their historic monopoly of providing knowledge and have been forced to reconsider and expand their range of services in the digital era. Nowadays people communicate and share information through the internet and social media, so much so that physical presence and human encounters have become a necessity in avoiding the alienation caused by the digital realm.  The new role of libraries is to bring people together in the physical terrain and spread knowledge through mix-media and interactive technologies. Libraries today are shifting towards a more informal and creative position, one that stimulates people imagination and creates space for activities that are related to knowledge, education and culture. Therefore one could state that, even though books are not the only source of knowledge anymore and certainly not the most sustainable one, their importance however remains the same, but their presence is reduced so that they make space for encounters. 


The concept for the new Municipal Public Library (MPL) in Szczecin is to create a social condenser and a new reference point for the district of Prawobrzeże, by compressing the traditional functions of the library into an efficient central volume and dedicating the largest part of the building around it into encounters and activities for the users. The volume of the Library is therefore designed as a simple and efficient elongated box that is positioned on the northern side of the site, allowing for a framed passage to the adjacent church on the north side and a large landscaped public space on the south. The volume of the building is divided in three functional zones that are interconnected by a large corridor on the south side. The western zone contains the entrance, the main hall and the adults’ library functions. The central zone comprises of two levels: on the ground floor it accommodates most of the library rooms that need isolation, the administration offices and the utility services – on the first floor it houses a large auditorium hall that can host big events or be divided by movable partitions into separate rooms for smaller gatherings. On the western zone of the building there is the children library, the staircase and the elevator to the auditorium’s mezzanine. The southern corridor that connects the three zones functions as an internal street of circulation, but also as an informal reading area with large bookshelves walls on the one side and playful movable furniture on the other side.


The interior space of the library provides large open spaces and a clear organization that is flexible to future changes and adaptations. The main hall is a double high space that offers grandeur and a sense of monumentality that highlights the public character of the building. The separation of adults’ and children area provides autonomy and sound isolation without interrupting the continuous flow of the spaces and while still maintaining visual connections. The internal street offers an informal reading and activities zone that can be ever changing and customizable by the users and the staff of the library. The central space of the library contains most of the bookshelves and closed rooms on the ground floor, defining the identity of the library and organizing its interior layout. The large auditorium space on the first floor of the central area works as a continuation of the main hall, by having its main access point through the podium of bookshelves and reading areas of the adults’ department on the western zone.  The internal facades of the auditorium are glazed and open to the public spaces of the library, exposing its activity to the visitors and inviting them to participate – although visual separation is also possible through the use of curtains.


The envelope of the building is a simple rectangular form that adapts to the parameters set by the context, the internal organization of the Library and the continuity between the inside space and the exterior landscape. The north façade is 12 meters high to create an urban relation with the adjacent housing blocks and is glazed on the ground floor so that it can animate the street leading to the church and attract visitors to its welcoming interior. The small side facades are fully glazed so that they create a visual connection to the street and open up the Library’s activities to the city. The south façade of the building is the most iconic and the one that blurs the boundaries and establishes both a visual and a physical connection between the indoors and the outdoors activities of the Library. Opening up to the landscaped public space in front of the building, the south façade is 8 meters high on the west side and 5 meters on the east, creating a characteristic diagonal line across the elevation that relates to both the urban and the human scales of the site. The sloped roof enhances the domestic scale and character of the Library, makes more efficient the use of the interior spaces and creates a playful volumetric interaction with the roof of the central volume that accommodates the auditorium. The porosity of the façade and the extension of the interior space to the exterior highlights the public character of the Library and creates more possibilities for informal happenings and open-air events during the spring and summer months. 


The outdoors public space of the Library is designed as a series of programmatic stripes that emerge from the interior of the building and extend to the exterior. The stripes contain outdoors public program and landscaped areas when intersected by perpendicular zones of activities, creating an urban patchwork of uses or a mosaic of events for the Library users and the district of Prawobrzeże at large. Starting from the West side, the first stripe contains diverse landscaped areas with trees and low vegetation that protect the public space from the noise of the adjacent street, the secondary entrance to the building, the bike parking area and a zone with gravel and benches for rest. The second stripe is paved and functions as the way leading to the main entrance of the building, while next to it there are two landscaped areas and an area dedicated to outdoors exhibitions. The central and wider stripe contains the most important uses of the public space: the outdoors reading area which works as a physical continuation of the interior informal reading area, a shallow 5cm zone of water which provides fountains, reflections of the building and the surrounding nature and a playful natural source of cooling in the warm summer days. The third zone of the central stripe accommodates the outdoor auditorium and its roofed stage, which can host large open-air events for an audience of more than 50 people. The last stripe on the eastern edge of the plot contains the outdoors playground for the children area, a botanic garden and a landscaped area with trees. On the north side of the site there is a parking area for 23 cars and 3 disabled spots, as well as another green area with trees. The public space of the Library is designed to be fully accessible for wheelchairs and cover the needs for rest, leisure and cultural development for all users and age groups, as well as to be used on daily base from all the citizens of Prawobrzeże, even when the Library itself is closed.


The materiality of the building is austere and limited to the fundamentals, so that the Library adopts a timeless and robust identity as a modest landmark in the city. The structure is out of concrete to provide thermal mass and reduce the heating and cooling demands in the winter and summer respectively. The exterior shell is composed of exposed concrete structural frames and zinc metal cladding for both high performance and endurance is harsh conditions. The lower parts of the façade are glazed to permit maximum transparency on the ground floor, while expanded aluminium mesh is provided in areas that need sun shading. In the interior, the structure and ceilings are left unfinished and rough so that they highlight the original texture of the exposed concrete, enhance the public grandeur of the Library and at the same time emphasize the evolutionary and informal character of the institution. The central box containing the closed rooms and the auditorium are completely cladded in local oak wooden finishes to create a warm, welcoming and poetic atmosphere in the interior. The main floor of the Library is out of granite, a material that is also used for the pavement of the public space and that creates both a public feeling and a sense of informality in the interior. Floor heating and a series of domestic and industrial carpets are proposed for specific sitting areas of the library in which users sit, lay or play - including the children area. 


Specific design decisions have been made to provide an efficient and aesthetically neutral solution for the acoustics of the Library. Most of the interior textures of the materials are mat and rough to diffuse rather than reflect noise, while most of the fixed and movable furniture are made of sound-absorbing textiles or plywood finishes. The oak wooden cladding in the interior is perforated and combined with the sound absorbing qualities of the large bookshelf walls; they provide maximum efficiency for the absorption of the interior noise. All the floors are proposed to have rubber layers underneath for the reduction of the noise created by walking, while movable or fixed sound absorbing buffers and panels can be positioned at will in spaces that intense activity takes place. The auditorium solution combines sound reflecting oak wooden claddings and sound absorbing black fabric finishes, providing flexibility and potential for small and large events in different configurations.