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Home > View & Discuss > The design of world-class libraries

The design of world-class libraries

  • Date recorded: 25 Aug 2016

  • Duration: 49:03

'A contemporary library must support four goals: experience, empowerment, involvement and innovation'

– Morten Schmidt

About this video

Morten Schmidt of Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, one of Scandinavia's most well-regarded architectural practices, talks about 'collection to connection': how contemporary design can enhance the relevance of modern libraries to people and their communities.

He introduces the Scandinavian design principle of putting people first, with reference to the Danish public library which Morten describes as an inviting civic space that engages with the culture of the city and its people, and is open to its physical surroundings. 

Morten discusses the University of Aberdeen library in Scotland, where the ground floor is open to the public and was designed to encourage chance encounters. He describes this as 'an embodiment of the idea of the library as meeting space or a third space, creating that space somewhere between your work life and your home life.'

Morten says that a modern library needs to create inclusive areas that are flexible enough to support varied uses. He describes public libraries as 'the peoples' buildings: everyone can go there, so they are as important as a church, a park or a city hall'.

He states that a contemporary library must enable four goals: experience, empowerment, involvement and innovation. These in turn are supported by different types of spaces for varied activitites including contemplation, connection to the city, inspirational events and study.

Morten elaborates on how these four goals may be achieved through reference to contemporary SHL-designed libraries in Ningbo, China; Halifax, Canada; Aahurs, Denmark and Christchurch, New Zealand.

He also discusses the success of the ARoS Art Museum with its permanent rooftop sculpture by Olafur Eliasson, which is attracting international visitors and was a catalyst for Aarhus receiving the prestigious title of European Capital of Culture 2017. The museum plans to re-invent itself once again by investing in a site-specific installation by renowned lighting artist James Turrell.

This free talk was held at State Library Victoria on 11 July 2016.


Morten Schmidt graduated from the Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark, in 1982 and founded Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects in 1986 with Bjarne Hammer and John F Lassen. He is involved in a number of the firm's Danish and international projects, including library projects in Scotland, Canada, China and New Zealand. SHL is part of a consortium of internationally celebrated architects leading the design of the Library's $83.1 million Vision 2020 redevelopment.