The day before I left Berlin to come back to the states I decided to head out to the little town of Eberswalde, about 25 km to the northeast of Berlin to see one of Herzog and deMeuron’s libraries. At this point of my European study trip I had been to several HdeM projects, but this one still stands out in my mind (largely due to having just finished reading HdeM’s book Natural Histories). I like the way the building has texture without adding additional facade layers.
View from Friedrich-Ebert Strasse
The building uses serial images to break down the facade, creating a texture that matches with both the older masonry/brick buildings across the street but the surrounding landscape and green area as well.
Library within Context
HdeM worked in collaboration with artist Thomas Ruff on the facade; which consists of silkscreened glass and acid-etched concrete panels. The tactile qualities of these panels is quite nice, especially the difference between the smooth and rough areas. Templates were placed into pre-cast panel molds, in which a setting retardant was placed to created the “printed” images on the concrete panels. The images come from Thomas Ruff’s collection of photographs and news clippings of German life though the years, a found archeology that relates to the main mission of every library; a finding of knowledge. These images show all aspects, from people escaping from East Berlin to West Berlin on Bernauerstrasse before the wall came down, to images from the war, to every day life images. These images help to tie the different materials together, as both the silkscreened glass and concrete panels utilize a dot-matrix to create the images.
Acid etched Precast Concrete Panel
Corner showing Acid-etched Concrete Panels giving way to Silk-screened glazing
The entry sequence of the building, is a bit peculiar because you do not enter on the street, but through the courtyard at the back of the building. This gives the building a sense of turning its back on its surroundings (more of this in a moment) but integrates it more within the Technical School campus (which also features a lecture hall by HdeM). An all silkscreened glass vestibule celebrates the entry and provides a buffer between courtyard and library.
The one shortcoming with this building falls inline with the general criticism of HdeM’s work during this time period, as the interior is very typical and standard for a library, although some steps were taken but ultimately put to other uses. HdeM thickened the walls on the inside by placing the majority of book shelving on the exterior walls. The locations of the punched windows on the facade were to designate where study desks were incorporated into the shelving, but mechanical equipment was placed in these areas instead. The ribbons of silkscreened glazing hide translucent panels that allow a nice diffused light into the interior, a gesture towards the traditional notion of letting north light into reading rooms.
Ultimately I am still really impressed by this project due to an idea that has been fermenting in my head and throughout my studio projects for a while now, radical contextualism. Even though the Library does stand out and has a different material treatment than its surroundings, due to the texture created by the images and the massing of the buildings, it fits quite well. This texture both matches up to the scale of the texture of brick, as well as the texture of the surrounding trees and landscape. This creates a both/and condition of both different and similar, as it fits well within its context yet still stands out, largely due to the entrance being off an entry courtyard and its elaborate manipulation of materiality.