Greetings from Berlin! The first installment in my design tour of Germany and Scandinavia brought me to the Philology Library at the Free University of Berlin.
Completed just last fall as part of an ongoing rennovation of the campus, the unique hemispheric structure of glass and steel was designed by superstar architects Foster and Partners, headquartered in London. Affectionately nicknamed the Berlin Brain, the Library is an architectural jewel for both the University and the City of Berlin itself, as well as a beautiful manifestation of both active and passive energy-saving design.
As described in detail, here, the double layered dome shelters a concrete structural core and together these features heat and cool the space using solar- driven convection currents. According to Senior partner Stefan Behling–Foster’s resident expert in sustainability and energy conservation — 60 percent of the year the library is ventilated by simply opening panels in the dome membranes or using controlled fresh air drawn from below.
In addition to it sustainable credentials, the Library is also a visually spectacular and comfortable work space. The space features three tiers of day-lit reading desks bordering the undulating balconies of each floor. The afternoon I visited was overcast and grey (not uncommon for a Berlin winter), but the study spaces of the library were remarkably bright and welcoming. The white translucent panels of the dome diffused light throughout the space, leaving only the book stacks at the center of each floor requiring artificial lamps. As anyone who has spent hours studying under a flickering flourescent glare can attest, this naturally lit space is a student’s dream come true.
+ Foster and Partners Project Portfolio
Two years in, the Berlin Brain still withstanding the design tests of time.
[...] and a center for innovation. We’ve seen sustainable structures from Foster before, from his Green Library in Berlin to the proposed Entertainment Center in Kazakhstan, but this takes Foster’s green [...]
Foster worked with Buckminster Fuller on underground sustainable structures, and it is clear from this library that Bucky's many lessons were not lost on Foster. It is instructive to compare the work of one of Fuller's protegees, Edward Allard, with the design of the Berlin library: see http://www.allard.org/index.html