2006 International Design Competition

OCEAN NORTH & Scheffler + Partner

OCEAN NORTH: Achim Menges, Michael U. Hensel , Guillem Baraut Bover, Andrea di Stefano, Mattia Gambardella, Pavel Hladik, Aleksandra Jaeschke, Steinar Killi, Eva Scheffler, Birger Sevaldson, Defne Sunguroğlu, Gabriel Sanchiz

Engineering Consultants: Bollinger & Grohmann, Frankfurt

Landscape Consultant: Thom Roelly

Czech National Library: view from Letenské Park.
Czech National Library: view from Milady Horákové Avenue.
Czech National Library: interior view.

The competition proposal for the New Czech National Library in Prague, a collaborative project of OCEAN NORTH and Scheffler + Partner, aimed at exploring possibilities of gradually eroding exclusive programmatic and hard thresholds alignments in favour of heterogeneous spatial arrangements and environmental gradients within the constraints of a competition entry for one of the most functionally regulated and programmatically determined building typologies.

Czech National Library: siteplan.

The project is characterized by a monolithic appearance for one of the key buildings of Czech culture, as well as a continuous and gradient spatial experience of the building and adjacent landscape of the site. The overall building volume is organized as a large object that is at the same time contained and open, confined and continuous, providing differentiated spatial experiences for visitors and employees alike. The scheme provides one of several landscaped sites that together form a network of adjacent events, differentiated spatial provisions and scenic locations.

Czech National Library: floor plans.

The national archive, the core of the library housing one copy of all books published in the Czech Republic during the last century, constitutes a central volume, which organises a smooth connection between the Milady Horákové Avenue and the Letenské Park.  On both sides of this massive structure cantilever the volumes that contain administrative functions and reading rooms within a branching structure. On the ground level below these two cantilevering volumes is a continuous public landscape that mediates between the urban edge of the boulevard and the adjacent park providing an articulated, continuous connection.

Czech National Library: elevations and sections.

The interstitial space between the central opaque volume and the two cantilevering volumes is of great importance. It delivers the means of passive environmental modulations of the areas that do not require highly specific controlled interior climates and the transitional micro-climates between all adjacent spaces. In order to do so the distance and degree of inclination between facing surfaces is crucial. An associative parametric model served to determine an effective setup that serves thermal, airflow and luminous conditioning of the different areas according to their required performance profiles. Additionally, the changing opacity and permeability of the building envelope that ranges from the opaque and solid national archive to the gradient density of the cantilevered envelopes’ structural skin and the open access to public landscape provides a wide range of spatial and microclimatic situation that facilitate and enable both, the high level of organizational control required for a library building and the heterogeneous conditions enabling zones of migrating activities and intensified individual experience of inhabiting space and enjoying the various media and the social dynamic of the library.

Czech National Library: program distribution and circulation.
Czech National Library: rapid prototype model. Photography: Michael Hensel, 2006.

The distinctive tectonic articulation of the cantilevering volumes is developed through generative computational processes driven by spatial and structural criteria. In an analytic procedure the stress distribution within the envelope of a specified volume is evaluated and mapped as a vector field of principal forces. According to this structural information, combined with other parameters such as for instance the angle of incident of sunlight, view axes and spatial characteristics, a network of merging branches is derived. Concentrating at the five support points, the flux of forces within the planes of the envelope is complex due to the irregular geometry and the extreme cantilever at both the street and park side of the volumes. As all parameters need to be understood as interrelated, the generative process recurrently analyses the structural behavior in relation to the other input parameters and responds by adjusting the specific articulation of each element’s dimensions, angle, and orientation during the growth process. Inherent variations of structural input data and parameters lead to the generation of a differentiated, tectonic envelope in which the interrelation of form, load-bearing and organizational performance is synthesized. In this way the tectonic articulation becomes integral to the spatial organization. This is manifested, for example, in the gradient transition from controlled and channeled circulation concentrated at the support points of the cantilevering volumes towards open zones of individual movement and use of the reading areas at the perimeter of the volumes.

Czech National Library: computational form-finding of branching structure.
Czech National Library: initial design model. Photography: Michael Hensel, 2006.
Czech National Library: initial design model. Photography: Michael Hensel, 2006.