The Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus (BTU) was newly founded in 1991 following the reunification of Germany. Erected on the former location of the University of Civil Engineering and other institutes, its buildings are constructed in a uniform style - they are all of essentially the same shape, height and material. In the early nineties, a competition called for proposals for the modernization and ongoing development of the new BTU.
In our proposal for the competition (>098), we suggested placing two rectangular buildings on the area to the west of the university campus to house the library and the main lecture building. Those parts of the university that are also used by the population of Cottbus would become part of the city. But when the project was taken up again, the main auditorium had already been housed elsewhere within the campus. We came to the conclusion that the library required a different type of building; it would be a solitary landmark within the surrounding urban architecture that would communicate the new spirit of the university and relate to the enviroment in many different ways.
The amoeba-like ground plan seems to spread and flow into the surrounding landscape. But is it a purely accidental shape as the result of spontaneous artistic inspiration and an expression of the architects’ personal feelings? Although indeed appearing, at first sight, to be a purely accidental shape, it proves on closer inspection to be a purposeful configuration of many different flows of movement. We made models to work out the sequences of movement and to test their quality, specifically their ability to reorganize and restructure urban space.
The glazed library building stands invitingly opposite the main entrance to the campus. From this vantage point, the library appears as an impressive body anchored in the park. When one approaches the building from downtown or from the north, it looks entirely different – more slender, almost like a free-standing tower. In fact, the building looks different from every avenue of approach and yet it remains a single continuous form, a flowing whole. Although it seems to be organic and explicitly self-referential, its design also derives from the express intention of lending the site a new and distinctive topographic quality within its urban context.
This philosophy characterizes the interior of the building as well. Its shape allows the creation of reading rooms in many different sizes and oriented in all different directions but within the larger whole of the library as a single, connected interior space, a spatial continuum. Following an orthogonal layout, the stories are cut back so that each has a different shape, generating an appealing tension between the stories and the continuous shell of the building.
Being able to leave out certain areas of the floor space on each level or in each part of the building gave us considerable freedom in designing the spatial sequences within the building. Some of the reading rooms are two or three stories high and have an extremely spacious feel; others are more intimate with intentionally low ceilings. While some of the rooms take full advantage of daylight illumination from the side or from above by following the curved, glazed shell of the building, other working spaces are somewhat screened off by being arranged along galleries. The flat, darker one-storey areas are essentially like stacks that house the shelves of the open access library.
An expansive spiral staircase, six meters in diameter, cuts through the entire structure and links all the stories. As a free-standing, sculptural object it provides orientation within the building. The stairs are so spacious that they not only ensure immediate access to all of the floors for people in a hurry but also offer room for others to stop and chat for a moment.
The color scheme in the reading rooms, with their atmosphere of quiet concentration, is grey and white. The architectural issues are space, light and a view. The areas in the interior of the building, where books and other media are stored, are bathed in color. The colors of the spectrum have been painted in stripes on the floors, supports and walls, following a rational, orthogonal system. They also assist orientation but without a defining color code for fields of study in the building. The colors are reflected in the metal ceilings and shelves to almost psychedelic effect.
A white veil is printed on both sides of the building's glazed shell. Texts in different languages and alphabets have been superimposed in so many layers that they are no longer legible, but a pattern results whose origin in the world of written signs is unmistakable. The printed pattern breaks the reflection, eliminates the hardness of the glass and makes the body of the building homogeneous.
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