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Book bunker.

Mecanoo's seductive library for Delft University literally becomes part of the landscape, its grass roof enclosing an enticing and varied inner realm.

Delft Technical University's new library takes its place in a sprawling campus dominated by van den Broek and Bakema's imposing Brutalist lecture theatre completed in 1964. The library occupies an adjacent site, and tactfully responds to its iconic neighbour by burrowing into the ground to become, in effect, part of the landscape. Both materially and formally, the new building is the antithesis of van den Broek and Bakema's brooding concrete monolith. Mecanoo's seductive scheme transforms the site into a hummocked expanse of grass and glass with a habitable, topographic roofscape that acts as an extension of existing public space.

Based on an irregular, trapezoidal plan, the library is enclosed on three sides by sharply canted glass walls. From across the canal on the north edge of the site, the building appears as a sleek, shimmering glass wave. After dark, the glass walls are transformed into softly radiant planes, revealing the quiet hive of industry inside. The lightness and ethereality of the transparent flanks contrast with the organic mass of the grass roof. The amorphous, turf-covered volume slopes gently down to earth in front of van den Broek and Bakema's lecture theatre. The green bunker is theatrically punctured by a conical rooflight that heroically signals the building's presence on campus, its gaunt steel structure exposed like an abstract spire.

Tapering steps direct you to the tunnel-like entrance cut deep in the sward-clad flank. After this fleeting moment of compression, you are propelled into the breathtaking volume of a huge central hall. This cathedral-like space is penetrated by the conical rooflight, its base held aloft by splayed steel columns. The monumental cone houses four levels of hermetic reading rooms, with study places encircling a central light-filled void. Spiralling up from the main hall, a helical stair leads to the various reading room levels. A glazed, halo-like strip separates the cone from the main roof, bringing more light down into the depths of the central hall.

Long strips of study and office space are organized around the hall perimeter. Cellular offices are placed on the east and south sides, with multiple study rooms to the west, tucked under the decreasing swell of the roof. The luminous, double-height volume of the main reading room is ranged along the north edge, with an Arcadian vista overlooking the tree-lined canal. Overall, the building provides around 1000 study places, 300 of which are equipped with computer terminals. Users have a choice of different sorts of working environments, ranging from private, cellular study cubicles to airy, communal reading rooms.

As well as serving the local needs of university students and staff, the library provides distance reference and information services for commercial and industrial companies. Designated the national Dutch library for technical and natural sciences, the building is also connected electronically to other major libraries around the world. The majority of the library's one million publications are stored in temperature and humidity-controlled storerooms in the basement. Volumes are retrieved by library staff and shuttled up to the circulation desk in the central hall by means of a small glass lift. Some 80 000 current books and periodicals are stored on towering open bookcases on the east side of the central hall. Accessed by a system of walkways and gantries, the steel-framed bookcases are silhouetted against a vivid ultramarine wall. Walkways from the bookcase levels dock into the base of the reading room cone.

The glazed facades and the turf-clad roof play a significant part in the building's environmental control strategy. The dense, planted roof has good thermal (and acoustic) insulation properties that help to maintain the library's internal temperature. Gradual evaporation of rainwater absorbed by the roof vegetation also assists with natural cooling in summer. Water stored in two subterranean tubes is used both to heat and cool the building. In winter, warm ground water is channelled through a heat exchanger to temper the building; in summer, the process is reversed, with cold ground water used as a natural cooling agent. The sweeping glazed facades are made up of an outer double glazed unit, a 140mm ventilated air cavity with solar shading and a sliding inner leaf of toughened glass. Air is pumped into the cavity at floor level and sucked out at high level on each floor. To minimize disruption to the air flow, openable windows are kept as small as possible.

As the exterior of the building explores the polarity between the library and the existing lecture theatre, so the interior is characterized by an explicit, expressive contrast between the horizontal and vertical elements of the central hall and conical reading tower. Defined and animated by its skewed geometry, the library becomes a point of intersection, where the familiar and strange converge, where public and private realms meet and where haptic books coexist with ephemeral, intangible electronics.

Architect Mecanoo, Delft

Project team Francine Houben, Chris de Weijer, Aart Fransen, Carlo Bevers, Alfa Hugelmann, Monica Adams, Marjolijn Adriaansche, Jan Bekkering, Henk Bouwer, Gerrit Bras, Birgit de Bruin, Ard Buijsen, Katja van Dalen, Annemiek Diekman, Ineke Dubbledam, Erick van Egeraat, Axel Koschany, Theo Kupers, Maartje Lammers, Paul Martin Lied, Bas Streppel, Astrid van Vliet

Structural engineer ABT

Mechanical engineer Ketel

Electrical engineer Deerns

Photographer Christian Richters
COPYRIGHT 1999 EMAP Architecture
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Delft University's library
Author:Van Cleef, Connie
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Mar 1, 1999
Previous Article:Villa VPRO.
Next Article:Campus landscape.

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