In designing a large new university library, various references come to the fore. Famous libraries, ranging from the old Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (1875) by Henri Labrouste to the Stockholm Municipal Library (1927) by Erik Gunnar Asplund, have called for an advanced contemporary building. Today such a building must be a gateway to the digital highway but must also refer to important traditions, including access to knowledge and the rarefied atmosphere of study within a splendid environment. In the case of Delft, with a thousand workstations and facilities to accommodate three thousand students each day, the building must also be the heart of the university and provide a landmark within a campus the size of a small town. The design must also consider its relationship with the centrally placed auditorium, the brutalist building by Van den Broek and Bakema, great names in the history of the university and Dutch architecture. Through contrast, a symbiosis has been established – the towering concrete of the auditorium and the landscape in which the library is sited form a new unity.
The large lawn roof is tilted up at one corner like a sheet of paper held by a single point. The hollow beneath houses the library. A cone, the symbol of technology, pierces the library and the landscape, affixing them like a pushpin. With a grass-covered roof, high-performance glazed facades and subterranean storage for heating and cooling, the building reaches high standards of sustainability. The entrance affords a glimpse of the sunken book stacks for rare and irreplaceable books. Inside the towering suspended bookcase for the less fragile books astonishes the visitor. The deep blue background gives the wall-to-wall racks the feel of a theatre set. The columns in the central hall are not only structural but also provide lighting and heating. The sloping metal ceiling continues without interruption across all spaces above a floor the colour of Saharan sand.
A library must provide an environment that enables concentration through silence, comfortable furniture and pleasant lighting. Daylight penetrates the building not only through the climate-control glazing in the facade but also through the cone that pierces to the heart of the building. The cone also gives form to a variety of study rooms. The space that adjoins the central hall contains long tables with three hundred workstations with partitions in a shifting perspective indebted to Labrouste.