The National Library of Israel — a completely new building designed by Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron — has broken ground in Jerusalem, after plans first surfaced in late 2014. Coinciding with the start of construction, new images have been revealed, detailing more of the six-storey structure. Once open to the public in 2020, the completed library complex will take its place in Jerusalem’s national district adjacent to the Knesset. Herzog & de Meuron is developing the project alongside Israeli firm Amir Mann / Ami Shinar Architects & Planners, who are serving as executive architects.
Situated on a triangular plot, the library serves as a link between the cultural and civic buildings around it. Designed to meet LEED platinum requirements, the building totals approximately 45,000 square meters, including six above-ground floors comprising 15,000 square meters, and four below-ground floors totaling 30,000 square meters. A reading room filled with books takes a prominent and central position, surrounded by exhibition spaces, an auditorium, and further on-site amenities.
Read more about the project in the words of the architects …
Designing a new building in Jerusalem juxtaposes the desire to react to the architectural traditions of this historically significant place with the ambition to make a building that is both appropriate for the contemporary city and specific to the immediate site. These challenges frame our proposal for the National Library of Israel. Jerusalem has two primary urban precincts. The historical centre lies to the east while the modern administrative and cultural zone sits among newer development in the west. The dense and highly pedestrianised old city forms the dominant image of Jerusalem.
Unlike the old city, buildings in the new development are heterogeneous, freestanding, and primarily linked by vehicular traffic. It is in this area that the site for the National Library of Israel is located. The site is a sloped, triangular plot at the intersection of Ruppin Boulevard and Kaplan Street. Located between the Israel Museum to the south and the Knesset to the east, the National Library site is directly between Jerusalem’s most prominent institutions and is an extension of the park-like landscape that weaves through the area.
While fully independent, the library will be a link between the cultural and civic buildings around it.
A native garden with public space and art will surround the library and connect the interior functions to the surroundings. Visitors, who come for the cultural experience, mingle with local residents, researchers, and staff who use the library on a daily basis. Exhibition spaces, eating venues, an auditorium, bookstore, and youth centre, all surround the reading room. The diversity of functions and the connection to the city ensure that the library will remain a strong and vibrant institution in the future.
The design responds to the context and reflects the ambitions of the National Library of Israel. It is open and transparent but grounded in the traditions of great libraries and the city itself. As in the past, books will remain at the centre. They form a foundation and necessary balance against constant technological change. Books root the building to the ground and are visible to all in a central void. Vitrine-like elements form the bottom two floors and display the library’s content and activities to the street.
Above, a carved space containing stone binds the project together and reflects the massive quality of Jerusalem’s historical architecture, the scale of the adjacent buildings and the shape of the site. The stone is not just sculptural. The elevated mass provides shade while its mineral construction adds thermal mass to insulate the interior spaces. The form is strong but humble to its surroundings and the environment. — Herzog de Meuron
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