The design of world-class libraries
Date recorded: 25 Aug 2016
[Descriptive text: Stories are powerful things. State Library, Victoria. What's your story?]
[Morten Schmidt, Founding Partner, Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects.]
Morten: Thank you so much. Fantastic to see so many people on Monday evening. It can't possibly be because you want to hear about libraries. It must be because it's so cold outside, isn't it? I'm freezing here, even though I come from a country where it's summer right now, and it's just a little bit warmer than here. I don't know what it is it. It must be the wind or something like it.
Well, it's a pleasure, first of all, working with this library here, and also a pleasure being able to show you all the libraries that we've been doing.
I only have 250 slides to go through the next 50 minutes, so it's going to be very, very quick.
[Descriptive text: World Class library design]
Morten: Well, first of all, I want to, before going into this issue here, talk a little about ourself, very briefly. And then by the end of the presentation I will show you a couple of projects which is not libraries, but something very sort of similar to the libraries. Because I think you will be fed up with all these libraries by the the end of the presentation.
Our name is Schmidt Hammer Lassen, but we're also known as SHL outside Denmark.
[Slide shows a modern glass building]
Morten: We are based in Copenhagen in Denmark, and we work both in Aros and in Copenhagen in Denmark. But we have a strong presence in Shanghai in China, as well.
[Slide depicts a map of SHL sites]
Morten: And we are about 150 architects, whereas 30 of them are working in China.
[Slide shows photos of architects]
Morten: Our studio was founded in Denmark, so we follow a very Scandinavian way of thinking about our cities and our projects. This is the latest Danish architecture policy launched in February in 2014 by the Danish Ministry of Culture. And the key thing here is about putting people first, really. So this is how we work. And we will look at architecture as being democratic. We call it democratic architecture, architecture that focuses around the needs and experiences of the people that use the buildings we design.
[Slide shows people using library]
Morten: We are constantly thinking about how we can open up ways to engage people with our projects, and we try hard to get down to the essence, really, of what each unique project is about. And that's why we love libraries so much, because it has to do with people.
[Slide shows a Tshirt with the slogan 'We heart libraries']
Morten: And children, they love reading books ...
[Slide of a toddler]
Morten: ... but they are also in a generation of technology. And as we are continually hearing, how we deal with this is key to the future of the libraries. I'm not going to go very much into all these technical aspects of the future libraries, but more the frames of them.
[Descriptive text: Collection to connection]
Morten: We're developing the way we think about libraries toward what we refer to as collection to connection. How do we design libraries that can be both collection oriented and socially oriented?
[Slide of an architectural sketch]
Morten: We've designed and completed over 15 large scale libraries around the world, and are currently working on a number of others.
Morten: And although the majority of our libraries – projects – are centred around Scandinavia, we have worked and are working in places like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and China.
[Map of locations]
Morten: So perhaps one place to start is to look at some of the first libraries in history. This is the royal library of Alexandria in Egypt, built in the third century before Christ. And it acted as the hop for scholars. At the time, the majority of people were illiterate, so this was a place for the elite, first of all. Large library complex
Morten: This is the Royal Library in Copenhagen, Denmark, a project we designed more than 2,000 years later, some 23 years ago, and it opened 17 years ago. And this also, technically, is a research scholarly library, and on top it is the National Library of Denmark. And this project aims to show the immediate difference between closed elitist library buildings towards a more open and inclusive building type.
[Slide of a modern building on waterfront]
Morten: The building holds the very rare books in Denmark, but most importantly, it is completely open to the public, and lots of public events takes place here every day, lectures, musics, et cetera.
[Slide of people doing Tai Chi]
Morten: It's a library for everyone, not just scholars, and we created a ground floor that included public plazas, a shop, a cafe, a high end restaurant, exhibition spaces, and a concert hall.
[Descriptive text: Open and welcoming]
Morten: And the public space has become a stage for the life of the city, backed by the library as a key marker for the citizens, a strong example of how a library can create a feeling of cultural centre for a city. As introvert, it may look, in its exterior, as extrovert it is in its interior. It's opening up to the public, making this grand gesture with the softness of the curved concrete. It's opening up the library to the water as well, creating a space that was all about inviting people in to participate in the various programs run by the library. But symbolically, it's also showing opening up to the sky, to the cosmos, and to the universal knowledge with this V-shape.
[Gestures V shape]
Morten: Here's the music festival taking place, with live DJ and projections for example, held in the main library space. And the library now has its own residence, classical group, known as the Diamond Ensemble. So the library is engaging truly with the culture of the city and its people, and they frequently perform here. Oh, sorry – in a 600-seat musical performance hall. This shows how perfect example of a library is acting as a civic and social space.
[slide of musicians and stringed instruments in front of library]
Morten: This is another library we have completed in Aberdeen, Scotland, in UK. This is an academic library for the University of Aberdeen. But we wanted to create something that engaged with the public and the wider city, by having a plinth containing all the rare books, because up in Aberdeen they've gotten one of the largest collections of rare books in UK. Then we connected the exterior academic square to the ground floor, and we added many floors, connected to each other by a spectacular atria. And finally, we added the skin.
[Shows sketches in progression]
Morten: So we created a completely public flow open to anyone with a public cafe, exhibition space, and public lecture hall, and that spatial idea that drew, encouraged people to want to enter and delve deeper into the library.
[Slide shows atrium]
Morten: And looking down, you can see this combination of the idea of 'collection to connection', the space being specifically designed to encourage chance encounters and meetings.
[Slide of white spiral]
Morten: [? Fragrancy ?] of books saturated with the [? fragrancy ?] of books. The space took even Queen Elizabeth to the top floor, where I had the honour of showing her around in the building. She didn't bring her parachute at that time, though.
[Slide of Queen Elizabeth, wearing a light blue hat and dress, leaning over glass rail]
Morten: This is the embodiment of the idea of the library as a meeting space, or as we refer to as this third space, creating that space somewhere between your work life and your home life. And there are references in Chinese culture that make reference to the importance of the meeting space and public space.
[Slide of intricate painting]
Morten: This is part of a painting by the Chinese painter, Zhang Zeduan, entitled 'Along the River During Qingming Festival'. And this painting is known for depicting different people from different backgrounds interacting with one another. Not only in China, of course, but across the world, this interaction or meeting is fundamental to the core of our society. And we look at this as the core of the modern library today.
[Slide of Little free library]
Morten: I also wanted to show this. This is one of the world's smallest libraries. It is in a neighbourhood in New York, and was part of an initiative known as Little Free Libraries, and is based on the premise of "take a book, return a book." And one of the many cool things about this library is that it really encourages people to meet new people, and activates parts of us our city, no matter how small.
[Slide of two people inside]
Morten: And this idea of a library as a meeting point or meeting space, or more importantly, a community space, is always at the forefront of our thinking in new libraries. The most important function of the modern library today, and for the future, it is to help people understand, interpret, and relate to the world around them.
[Slide of looking out large windows]
Morten: It is even important to allow the users themself to form such spaces. This idea is fundamental to the idea of inclusiveness and creating a sense of ownership of this space for the visitors. Likewise, users of the modern library are varied and different, from children to teenagers, researchers to the elderly. So it's important to allow the flexibility to create and recreate zones and areas for different use. Besides maybe museums, libraries are some of the very few public spaces left that are noncommercial. This makes a public library as important as a church, a public park, or city hall, because it is the people's building, and everyone can go there.
[Slide shows group seating]
Morten: Another topic we frequently discuss is the idea of exploration. And we believe this is another fundamental concept in the modern library. We often refer to as serendipity. People today come to libraries for many different reasons.
[Sketch of winding path, symbolising exploration]
Morten: And in order to develop and encourage knowledge sharing and innovation, a library needs to encourage exploration and discovery. And we took this idea, literally, in a small local library we completed in Denmark with artist [INAUDIBLE] Fjord. This is a plan of the library, and you can see the shelving for books and seating and desks.
Morten: And this crazy red line – that also represents bookshelves and desks and seats.
[Slide shows bright red shelves]
Morten: This red line of displays shelving containing new collections and media, twisted through the space, encouraging users to follow it and discover, turning from shelving to desk spaces, floating through the space, breaking the associated continuity of the library as a rigid and ordered archive system, encouraging exploration and discovery.
[Slide of man singing]
Morten: Another aspect we believe is key to the modern library is involvement and empowerment. This is a picture from our dock, one library in Aros in Denmark, showing this idea of programming new types of activities within the library. Or here, some new technology, interactive gaming, and some more old-school gaming.
[Slide of children playing with a ball]
Morten: Again, here is a space dedicated to the Aboriginal community in our Halifax Library in Canada, the National Circle.
[Slide of a drum circle]
Morten: Or here, a yoga class in a flexible space we created facing the city.
[Dozens doing yoga]
Morten: In fact, some people often refer to this quote by Benjamin Franklin: 'Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn'.
[Slide shows Benjamin Franklin]
Morten: It's a great quote, I think, but for you historians out there, you will probably be aware that it's widely considered that Benjamin Franklin actually never said that at all. It was originally said by this guy, the Chinese philosopher, [INAUDIBLE]. And although the quote is slightly different, the moral is the same. You can only really understand something by trying it yourself. So if we take these ideas, experience, innovation, involvement, and empowerment, for what we often call the four spaces of the public library of the future.
[Slide of Venn diagram]
Morten: For a number of years we have followed the work of professors at the Royal School of Library and Information Science in Copenhagen. We refer to this four space model for the new library of the future. Their belief was that a modern library must support these four goals: experience, empowerment, involvement and innovation. And these goals are supported by four different space types: learning space, meeting spaces, performative spaces and inspirational spaces.
[Shows photos of each type of space]
Morten: I want to quickly show you four libraries that we have designed in a little more detail in Canada, China, Denmark and New Zealand, and try to explain some of these ideas.
[Shows pictures of countries]
Morten: I'm sorry, but the New Zealand one didn't come on the map. It was too small.
[Countries shown proportionally]
Morten: Let's start in Canada, in the port city of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
[Canadian East Coast map]
Morten: It's the red dot in Nova Scotia. The other red dot has nothing to do with libraries, but that's where Titanic sank.
[A building with five asymmetrically windowed stories. Top jutting out opposite.]
Morten: This is the library, a complete building, built on the site of a parking lot in downtown Halifax, conceived as a composition of stacked and twisted glass volumes, placed at a critical junction in the city. The project was to replace this building. The old library was built in 1950s as a memorial to those who died in the World Wars. It was a closed stone building, very traditional and introvert.
Morten: And the new library was intended to be the opposite of this, open, in glass, and welcoming. Here you can see this yin and yang difference between the context, brick versus glass, but connected through [inaudible] and colour.
[Libraries next to each other]
Morten: This library was the result of intensive public consultation, six large meetings of 300-plus people over six months, and around 1000 people online on Twitter at every event.
[Multiple photos of events]
Morten: Our entire design process were exposed. We started with no proposal and ended with a scheme in six months time, based all on the public's views and comments.
[Shows 16 different plans]
Morten: The public were welcomed into the process and we took the essence of their choices and developed it into our design.
[Models of each plan]
Morten: And this was the final proposal designed alongside the public.
Morten: This was what we proposed to the city planning bureau, and the project complete. So it was very, very close to what we agreed with the public.
[Photo of both libraries]
Morten: And that has reflected back as very positive, as well. Activity becomes visible deep inside the building, naturally more so at night. Halifax has a long, dark winter months, so it's perception at night was important.
Morten: From street level you can see deep into the library. The main cantilever of it becomes a marker, the centre of the downtown. And there we placed so called Halifax Living Room on the top.
[Lights shining through windows]
Morten: Inside the library was, of course, incredibly important, and was a major part of the public consultation process. Here are a picture from one of the dedicated kids' consultations sessions we held.
[Boy talking with adults]
Morten: And all the kids were Harry Potter-mad, and basically asked us to make the library like Hogwarts.
[Harry Potter poster]
Morten: So we decided to watch the movie again for some inspiration. We got inspired, of course. So a series of stairs and bridges connected to the spaces in various directions, atrium becomes a focus for movement and activity, as well as stairs. We created a series of bridges across the atrium. And the stairs open up to the main entrance.
[Several white walkways]
Morten: It also enhances the idea of exploration, or serendipity, as I said. And this is something we think is very important in modern libraries. And naturally, this came from what we thought a library should be about from children's view.
[Time lapse of library-goers]
Morten: But naturally, adults love to explore, too. This is the embodiment of our idea, 'collection to connection'. The ground floor is an extension of the plaza in front, connecting outside to inside. And this connection continues all the way back to the flexible performance space at the back of the building. The old library had 250,000 visits per year. Aim was to double this to 500. Now on track for two million.
Morten: So from this project will go to Ningbo in China. This is the existing centre of Ningbo you see here. And as the city expands, they are actioning ambitious plans for a new town. The city had quite ambitious plans to dramatically increase the number of visitors to the new library, here showing that their existing library already had more visitors than the Royal Library designed in Copenhagen. So the new library needed to be designed for 8,000 visitors per day.
So taking this idea that libraries are increasingly becoming a community or city meeting place, and one of the last free spaces where people can come together without being sold something or being asked to move on, we needed to create a meeting space for 8,000 people. So we focus one super large single space to act as this large meeting place at ground level, and we place all the most important library functions on this one floor and keep the plan very open and connect it to the outside.
Morten: And this creates a space, something like this, a place for discovery, really, something we continue to develop and first tried in our library we designed in Sweden in Hempstead.
Morten: If you consider this traditional book stack like this, only containing books, we believe this will completely change in the future if we follow this idea of collection to connection. So in Ningbo library, we proposed a much larger book stack that not only contains books, but also people. And these giant book stacks would lead people up from the open market place to the floors above. So people would interact in the larger marketplace and almost follow the sunlight up through the giant book stack to explore the library. And the bookstack connects with the rest of the library above, connecting three different volumes containing various collections, offices, classrooms, and media labs.
[Three sections meeting at the stacks]
Morten: Looking at how the library sits in the site, like all our previous libraries, the ground floor remains open and connected to the outside, so very much like from this image in Sweden. This is the main entrance of the Ningbo Library, with the open ground floor. This project is under construction and due to complete next year.
[Rectangular building with windowed first floor]
Morten: So now I want to take you to the city of Aros, where I come from, in the Northeast coast of Denmark. It is also where SHL were originally founded.
[Map of earth from space, Aarhus, Denmark labeled]
Morten: Like in Copenhagen, like in Halifax, and like in Ningbo, Aros was an industrial port city, and is going through major redevelopment of the harbour areas nowadays. And in 2008, we won the competition on this site that sits squeezed in between a city and the harbour. The project was for the city's new central library, citizen service centre, office space, and a major transport hub, so in a way, a new hybrid mixed-use building. And rather than place these functions next to each other, we propose to stack these functions on top of one another in an attempt to create compressed sense of current connection and synergy between these functions.
[Sketch of stacked places]
Morten: The concept was to create an open media space for the citizens, sandwiched between the transport hub below and the office space above. And this central space, almost like a covert urban plaza, is intended to act as a free zone where users can move freely between the library functions.
[Aerial photo of dock site]
Morten: This is the original dock site, and you can see the river, as well, coming from there. This image is an old image, but now the river has opened up.
[Concept art of stack]
Morten: Our proposal reconfigures and creates a completely new dock front, allowing the people of the city almost 360 degree access to the water. So this was our proposal in a rendering, and here's it completed.
Morten: The waterfront is still under construction, though, and completed, it will be an open public gathering place.
[Library lights at night]
Morten: Here's an example of how the spaces are used. Here, just before a music concert, the library becomes part of the city fabric.
[Crowd of people]
Morten: The outdoor spaces become an extension of the library space and can act as backdrop for various light installations as well.
[Top level lit up]
Morten: And we created a series of playful sculptures, as well, for the children. Here is a volcano from Iceland, located on the Northwest, facing the direction of Iceland.
[Children playing on large volcano]
Morten: As you move around the library the south, you can visit the African monkey and play hide and seek in the forest.
[Climbing on monkey]
Morten: On the northeast is a huge Russian bear, where you can slide down the tree trunk.
[Huge bear holding slide]
Morten: And in the west you can catch a ride on a massive American eagle.
[Sitting on an eagle's back]
Morten: And of course, in the east, the Chinese dragon promises adventure and discovery in China. So for children it encourages this association with the wider world around us in relation to the particular place in the world. These sculptures were created by Danish designers [inaudible].
[Long tubular gong hangs in atrium]
Morten: And inside the integration for art continues. Danish visual artist, [inaudible] conceived the gong, as you've already heard about. So this is the tubular bell in the middle of that space. And you can stick your head up into it and hope not there will be a child born at that time.
[Artist next to gong model. A large crowd of people around the gong in the library.]
Morten: A single large gong is placed within the library [inaudible]. And yeah, there's just the whole story about that we already heard. Inside the space is open and flexible, always connecting to the city, allowing for contemplation and understanding your place in the world, but also for creativity and performance. Here shows a dance performance taking place in an area that we call the median ramp.
[Crowd around dancers in black]
Morten: And this space is constantly changing with performance, lectures, and inspirational programs, or here, for quiet study.
[Children sit facing a stage]
Morten: Functions that used to be in the city hall has found its place here as well. Here you can get passports and driver's licence and the like. And while people are waiting for their driver's licence or passports, they can use the facilities as well. And there's plenty of space in this library.
[Sketch of the library. Time lapse video of the library on the waterfront. A huge blue ribbon on the entrance of the building flutters in the wind. People stream into and around the building. A series of still photographs. Women in black dancing on ramps. A child playing with huge lego blocks while families read books together on couches. Children running in an enclosed space with zig zag hand rails. A group giving a presentation as children look on. A group of musicians performing as spectators sit around them. Book shelves in the distance. Multiple tables with small groups gathered around each. Escalators enclosed in blueish green glass. People meandering through shelves and seating groups. Several people with lap tops sit at tables under a sign that says Bibliotek. A woman writing, a cafe counter behind her. Pushing a stroller up a winding ramp. Children playing. Exterior of the library on a sunny day. Children play on a hammock swinging over a green and black surface. Large individual blades of green grass protrude from the ground several feet high. Behind them, a sculpture of a large brown monkey. A woman looking over the glass railing. Aerial view of the building. It gives the impression of several layers of buildings stacked diagonally atop one another. Water on three sides. Huge bank of stairs lead up to the glass front entrance. Text, Dokk 1, Aarus, Denmark.]
Morten: So that was about Dock One from Christchurch, the fourth of the libraries that I'm going to present. You of course know about it. We are working on that project, and it will go into construction soon.
[Two aerial photos]
Morten: And this is an image from before the devastating earthquake that you all heard about. And this is the after image. And I don't know how many of you who have been there, but it's amazing to experience a city where there's still buildings there, but there's not a city anymore. I mean, it's just spaces between buildings. There's no streets and no plazas anymore. So it's a very strange place. And of course, the central space of the city is the cathedral square where the cathedral itself is also going to be demolished or rebuilt. And so our project here is going to be the first driver to redevelop the central core of Christchurch as a public building with high architectural quality. And as the building will have the cathedral on one side and Christchurch cultural institutions, the theatres, cinemas on the other, we wanted to connect the building on ground level. That was very important.
Morten: In the early design processes, we were asked to work very closely with the Maoris on the design.
Morten: So the notion of the pataka, the top component, the community arena below, was the output from the interesting and inspiring workshops that we had with these people.
Morten: And the space inside connects virtually. Mother Earth and Father Sky need to be connected inside the building. And we had to be aware of all their children as well, the skies, the rain, the light and the trees, the forests, and all that. And it was, for me, an eye opener. And I think we, as architects, needs to be aware of these much more sensible ways of looking at our spaces around us.
[Natural wood stairwells]
Morten: So the final design has come out with this here. There's a veil around the pataka, representing the dominant colour of nature in New Zealand, especially in the autumn, I think.
[Exterior, tan curtain-like structure over glass windows]
Morten: And you will see that the various angled components each pointing in different directions of important features in nature. It's Mount Cook and et cetera, like this. And on this image you will see, underneath the pataka, there's the very dominant community arena which is so important for the Maoris as well.
[Outdoor plaza with seating]
Morten: So meeting people has, in this project, taken even a more sort of sensitive level, which I find very interesting. So it's a formal space. It's not an informal space, because meeting people needs respect as well from each other, and the space needs to facilitate this respect.
So four libraries showing this idea of creating space for connection, all in separate corners of the world.
And with this, I will go into, not libraries, but a project up north, I guess on the very different opposite part of the globe, up in Greenland, which has been the first project of public character that we have been designing and I've been involved in, which is still, for me, one of the most sort of interesting experiences that I've gone through with a project.
It's the Katuaq Cultural Centre in Greenland. And I guess it must be – sorry, it's not easy to read and then talk freely. Now I'm reading. Greenland, only with a population of 50,000 people, but it belongs to Denmark. And you won't believe that this huge, vast country only has 50,000 people. And the capital, Nuuk, where only 14,000 people live, it's in the Arctic climate, and during the winter period, the northern light is present almost every night.
[Map of Greenland]
Morten: And just in the waters around it, the colossal icebergs are drifting and passing by the city. And we came up with this design for the first building up its kind, a cultural Centre which should not only serve the local people, but as well, it gathers all Inuits once a year from all over the northern hemisphere, from Alaska to Siberia. They speak the same language, really, and they gather in this building.
Morten: Our design picked up on the essence of the unique nature of Greenland, moving northern light, reflecting the dynamic nature of the fjords, designing a building which can stand the harsh climate, as well, was a challenge. And designing a building, the only triangular building which, at this very point, connects harbour with the government buildings which didn't exist before. Inside, there's the inherent feeling of the Nordic lightness, which the Inuits is so closely connected to via nature.
[Exterior of building]
Morten: Art and their myths are subtly exposed and moulded into the concrete work.
[Undulating wooden exterior]
Morten: And the building has proven to be, really, the place for people to gather. So every weekend, thousands, really, of people come to this building to meet and to experience the culture, children keeping their tradition alive, music, but as well functioning as the more formal venue for political discussions.
[Row of large concrete triangles give support]
Morten: Princess Mary, which I'm sure you're familiar with, coming from Tasmania, married to the Crown Prince of Denmark, has been in this building. And this image is just outside this building. She's been there many, many times.
[Smiling Princess Mary holds child]
Morten: So from Greenland, we're jumping back to Aros, where I come from. And I'm just going to finally speak about the art museum. Because I find art museum and libraries very similar.
[ARoS Art Museum]
Morten: It's a gathering place, and art has a very important role in the modern times, really to remind us of something which we have lost, our connection to cosmos, to the spirit, and to, you know, nourish our soul, so to speak. And, well, libraries has art as well as literature. So you can say that there's a relationship from libraries to museums as well.
[European map marking Aarhus]
Morten: But in our city, in 2017 we have been nominated the City of Culture in Europe. And this is partly because of this museum. That's why it's so important.
[Aerial view of city]
Morten: So right in the Centre of Aros we have designed two of the major buildings. I've shown one of them at the harbour front. But one of the other one is ours, sits in a cluster of cultural venues in the middle of the city with green parks surrounding it, and the famous city hall and the former library.
Morten: The museum wanted the building to connect these two major places in the city via a museum street. At one end, the beautiful city hall, with the distinct bell tower and designed by the world renowned Danish architect, and partly known for the Ant chair.
[Arne Jacobsen's Ant chairs]
Morten: You know that chair, I'm sure. The museum wants to create a direct contextual relationship to place. Aros is historically a brick city, with consistent brick architecture all over.
[Red brick buildings]
Morten: And here was our approach, a building which is just in red brick like all the other ones, but cut up in a very different way. And it have delicate brickworks, and it fits well into the context of Aros.
Morten: But you will see this image here without anything on top. And we slice this block to expose the contrasting white interior, enticing people to view inside, and opening up the ground floor to the city.
Morten: At night, the slice through the Centre invites citizens to use the art gallery as a short cut through the city, democratic idea that art is free, like here from London Tate Modern, and as well as a walk through to make people aware of the art.
[Stairs leading to Museum at night]
Morten: And via an organic shaped form, the street connects to the rest of the city's urban realm.
[Large open space]
Morten: Spaces become more dramatic and exciting, and it's curvature between concave and convex.
[White spiral walkways]
Morten: And it's inspired, of course, by Guggenheim in New York.
[From top to bottom floor]
Morten: The grand staircase becomes a major sculptural element in the space and brings you slowly up and down in the vertical stacked museum, while being able to connect visually to the city hall at the other end. 'The Boy', by Ron Mueck, is a part of that common foyer and it contributes to the space in a sense-provocative way, as well encouraging people to engage with art without actually entering the galleries proper.
[Huge sculpture of boy]
Morten: Amelia Earhart, first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean: her airplane has been on display in that space as well.
[Text, Aros on Fire. Burning the roots of Western culture]
Morten: And two young artists did this light installation for Aros years ago.
[Light installation on the front of the museum giving the appearance that the building is on fire. Pedestrians slow down and watch the flames. The silhouette of a parent and child walking through the flickering fire.]
Morten: And this installation was so real, that the fire brigades were really called down, and thousands of people called in and said, house Aros is on fire. So the artist's mission was really well done. So a few years after the completion, the museum wanted to push forward with a permanent art installation on the rooftop that had already been decided from the very beginning when we won the project in an architectural competition. Olafur Eliasson, the Danish-Icelandic artist, was appointed by an invited competition. And he's very known for his amazing installation, the sun at Tate Modern.
[Photo of artist]
Morten: His idea for ours was to build an installation where people could be an active part of the art. Hovering on top of the building is has an image of rendering from his proposal, and he called the art piece, the installation, ]My Panorama Rainbow]. Here is a rendering, as well, from his proposal.
[Circular rainbow walkway]
Morten: We were, as architects, responsible for the details and construction of the work, and lots of testing were made initially to be sure the rainbow effects worked properly. Curved, laminated, hardened, toughened, coloured glass panels manufactured in Germany were used, in a very complicated static structure, holding up the roof itself only by the glass without any columns.
[Crane lowering coloured glass]
Morten: Here, you can see the finished rainbow hovering above, and you can hardly sense that it has columns, which illuminates the skyline of Aros, a piece you return to time after time, really. And everyone loves to experience the city from above via this experience of colour.
[Rainbow walkway at night]
Morten: Here you can see the structure without any railings and columns. UK's health and safety systems would never have approved this.
[Inside the walkway]
Morten: But we are in Denmark.
[A circular walkway in sequential shades of the rainbow looking out over the rooftops of the city. Glass on both sides.]
Morten: And it takes you through all the colours of the rainbow. So the sensation that you get viewing your city is different with the light and different with the view.
[Blue glass and red glass]
Morten: So it has become a venue for thousands and thousands of people that come from all over the world to see this huge piece. And it cannot be said more – it has given so much back to the city, just this little piece on top of the museum, that I think it has been the reason for the award of the European Cultural City. This is one of the main reasons. So the investment, initially, has been really good. So upon the success of the rainbow, seven years later, the museum wants to go for what they call the next level.
[Descriptive text: ARos, the next level]
Morten: Because a museum cannot exist if they don't invent themself again, reinvent themself, and come up with something completely new.
[Turrell in desert]
Morten: And for this installation, they have appointed world-renowned light artist, James Turrell, most known for his so-called sky spaces, installations like Olafur Eliasson's, which investigates the phenomena of nature.
James Turrell's works is predominantly worked with colour, and specifically on the notion of complementary colour. James Turrell is an interesting, composed personality. His background as a Quaker brings him in close connection to the spiritual world. Here, they congregate in a circle, mostly in complete silence, for an hour.
[Sitting in two rows of circles]
Morten: But he's also highly technical and fascinated by airplanes and navigation in air space, gives him the physical relationship to cosmos. This image is one of his many own vintage airplanes, a Lockheed 10, same as Howard Hughes flew around the world.
[Lockheed 10 plane]
Morten: He's most known for his installation, 'The Rodent Crater', in Arizona, a crater he bought many years ago after carefully searching for the ultimate unspoiled area which he felt was most related to cosmos.
[Flying above crater]
Morten: On top of the old volcano, he has constructed a most interesting installation of various sky spaces. It's not yet open for the public, but he's preparing to do so within a couple of years time. You walk through tunnels, not really knowing if you walk slightly up or down, but always towards a light, which you think is something vertically on a wall.
[Light at the end of a tunnel]
Morten: But as you come closer, you start to experience the round circle. It is actually an elliptical hole in the ceiling of the space, and not a light fixture on a wall.
[White cloud through a key hole]
Morten: And as you look up into the sky, your eye and brain will react with a sensation of a complementary colour to the interior colour of the space, which is. Psychedelic cameras cannot capture this phenomena, and will always just render the colour of the actual skies, as in this image.
[Brown stairs lead to the blue sky]
Morten: He brings really forward the whole issue observing colour, as described by Newton, in a scientific way, or as Goethe suggests, by your senses.
[Dim yellow light encircling the brown stairs that lead to the blue sky]
Morten: So here's just an example of his many sky spaces. He has designed around 80 sky spaces, and some very small ones and some very large ones. They all have a hole up in the ceiling, and that hole is very, very thin, with a thin rim.
[White oval on purple]
Morten: So you will not experience that it has a structure in construction.
[Rectangular skylight in a white space. Brown oval on floor mirrors white above]
Morten: Okay, these are all the examples. So here we come to the project that I had the pleasure to work with him preparing the concept for this new major installations. And even though he works as an artist, I believe he is, as well, a skilled architect. The scheme developed into various underground spaces with which should have a combination in a dome, with a size of almost 40 metres in diameter. Pantheon, I believe, is 50. And the sky space [inaudible] as pantheon have an open hole in the middle.
[Sketches of dome]
Morten: So we developed this scheme with three spaces that evolved into this master plan, where the dome itself sits further out than the museum itself.
[Map of campus]
Morten: This is a sketch from early stages. It has become larger than this. It's just a round space where you're really taken into, you and you can sit, like the Quakers, around the circle, and just in silence, if you want to, observe the fantastic sensation of this complementary phenomena when you look up into the sky. So you will be able to look up, maybe, in a complete light blue sky. And the way, then, the interior of the space will be littered with colour, that sensation of the sky will completely change, and you may see orange or other colours up there, which obviously cannot be photographed. So these last two images that I will show you is how the scheme is evolving now.
[Museum and grass dome]
Morten: It may change a little bit, but you will see that it's ending up with a little hill where that space is both underneath but above, as well. So it has several functions from the exterior. You can experience this hole, and then you will go into it and experience another fantastic thing. But thanks.
[Descriptive text and branding logo, State Library, Victoria[
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'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.