The National Library of Israel (projects competition)
Architectural Design Concept
The National Library will be a living resource not only reflecting history but also shaping the future of Israel. This proposal will create a building that combines efficient and flexible planning with inspirational and memorable spaces for staff, users and visitors alike. The library will become an international symbol of learning. It will establish a new type of conceptual and architectural response to a national institution that reflects and manifests a more open and inclusive approach for the new millennium.
The design is understood as an integrated approach: the building is part of the landscape rather than an object upon it. The primary formal gesture of an elevated research and study capsule provides a generous outdoor sheltered space below where the entry, reception and education and culture spaces interact with a landscape of terraces and courtyards that is enabled to flow continuously beneath the building, preserving views across the site and creating a sense of openness and welcome at ground level. Throughout the library, complimentary functions are grouped around carefully conceived outdoor spaces to realize the concept of a garden of knowledge.
The library’s form establishes a simple horizontal datum and axis to connect and present a frontage to the buildings of state and the IsraelMuseum, symbolically linking the state, the people and the wider world. The library acknowledges the Knesset set as an object on a plinth reflecting the authority of the state, but inverts this formality, establishing its main gestures as void spaces within a fluid mass, suggesting contemplation and the intangible, timeless, sacred nature of the word.
The main entrance approach will be from the south, along an axial route carved into the landscape, defined by long walls of carved Jerusalem stone with arabesque stone screening featuring patterns inspired by Hebrew calligraphy. Materially, stone defines the base and circulation of the building and the landscaped and external amenity terraces—physically and symbolically grounding the building in its context. As the visitor approaches the entrance, the large void above and a shallow, ovoid reflecting pool at the path’s centre combine to create a dramatic sensation of connectivity—above and below, earth and sky, culture and the written word. A single Cedar tree marks the threshold between the external and the internal landscape and welcomes the visitor.
The library is simply organised vertically into three parts, each serving different functions: the elevated capsule above and the embedded stacks and service functions below joined by the landscape spaces between and a singular central core element.
The capsule creates a grand reading room for the National Library, one that is flexible and informal enough to accommodate change in a digital realm but on a scale that reflects the history and ambition of Israel and its peoples. The large open single plate is mediated by two voids, establishing clear but flexible zones for collections, connections to the gardens below and a sense of transparency. The main spaces of the library will create an inspiring working, studying and learning environment through a variety of daylighting strategies and the dynamic offer of both vast panoramas of the city and National Precinct and views into the contemplative, seasonally changing garden spaces and terraces arrayed within the site. Large, open floors and a regular grid will allow for maximum future flexibility.Raised floors over thermally massive structure enable servicing flexibility and passive cooling in tandem with a labyrinth system below ground. A continuous band of glazing offers generous views to the precinct and city beyond, while the spacious interior volume tapers down from north to south in response to shading needs. The special collections reading room occupies a double height space accessible by a grand ceremonial passage overlooking the Knesset and will be visible as an object within the capsule from Kaplan Street.
Clad uniformly in a pearlescent reflective tiled material, the capsule will reflect dappled light to the outdoor landscapes and terraces below. The underside of the shell also offers enormous potential for artists to use as a blank canvas for installations & night time illumination. The capsule will not only capture and reflect light, it will also create significant areas of shade allowing for active use of the library’s external terraces and landscape during the course of the day and throughout the year.
In between the basement and shell, the principal ground level harbours the main entrance, front of house and education and culture components—refreshment and shopping, visitor areas / exhibition space and conferencing / event / educational areas. These are connected within the grand, glazed foyer. Refreshment and shopping are clustered at one edge, with informal learning, study and social spaces on mezzanines above. A garden opposite the foyer from the entrance provides a welcome termination to its axis and serves the café and eating areas. Visitor areas and exhibition are clustered adjacent to the entrance, while conference / auditorium and education spaces also front the atrium, beyond the strong, simple mass of the core. The foyer is the focal hub of the library providing the key point of orientation allowing visual connections to all lower level areas and up to the reading rooms above through the great voids.
A secondary entrance from Kaplan Street enables use of auditorium and conference facilities out of hours if and when needed. This connects with a proposed pathway connecting the two principle streets at the northern end of the site, providing generous views to the gardens and terraces without compromising the secure line.
Embedded in the earth will be the stack and those operational functions requiring adjacency to it. Courtyards are carefully incised to provide sheltered outdoor spaces and daylight to staff areas below ground. The stable temperature of the stone is exploited for heating and cooling. The northern portion of the site above the compact parking levels allows space for future addition. The deep, contiguous basement plinth allows flexibility for stack arrangements and systems and future capture of the adjacent parking areas.
The library synthesizes simplicity and legibility of layout and form to create a variety of visual, spatial and symbolic experiences for visitors, users and staff that address their particular needs while enabling interaction and openness. A clear, simple circulation strategy and compactness enable robust security without sacrificing the feeling of welcome and transparency. The primary architectural gesture—the thin, suspended volume of the research and study areas—both shelters and enables preservation of a planted landscape across the site, an inversion of the conventional institutional building as bounded object upon the landscape. Thus, the design symbolizes innovation in a visually elegant and functionally integrated way.
National Library of Israel was one of the three final projects in the competition but did not win it. It is very important to mention that this project is the result of the colaboration between Alex Meitlis Architecture Studio, Daniel Assayag Architects, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (UK), Atelier One (consultant) and Grant Associates (consultant) also from UK.
IntelConstructions.com would like to congratulate them for the job they did.
In conducting this article IntelConstructions.com owes special thanks to Mr. Nadav Shchory from Alex Meitlis Architecture & Design Studio.