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Köpenick Library by Bruno Fioretti Marquez Architekten, Berlin-Köpenick, Germany

Bruno Fioretti Marquez Architekten create a powerful civic presence their central library for the district of Köpenick

The new central library in the Köpenick district of Berlin, Germany, is the realisation of a rule-breaking competition victory. Centralising three satellite libraries, the brief stipulated the client’s preference for a two-storey building that would take up more of the historic site adjacent to the River Dahme. Competition-winning practice Bruno Fioretti Marquez Architekten proposed a three-storey building with a smaller footprint (35 x 18m), which enabled it to restore the grain of an historic market square that stood on the site. Concern over staffing levels resulted in what the architects call a ‘one-room library’ using single, double and triple-height space to assist the staffing regime.

Key to the project’s success was its architects’ reading and understanding of context.

The Berlin-based firm’s three partners - two Italians and an Argentinian - met while studying for their diplomas in Venice in 1990. As partner Donatella Fioretti recalls: ‘It was an important place for us. Because of Aldo Rossi we gained a real understanding of the importance of the morphology of city.’

This sensitivity is evident in the respect for historic grain shown in this project, but also in how understanding the local vernacular contributed to the library’s distinctive tectonic; Köpenick’s robust brick-built industrial buildings are common, and even the town hall and church are in brick. The library’s saw-tooth roof is also a response to built context, amplified here with playful interlocking arrangements of high and low gables that produce hyperbolic paraboloid sections.

On entering the library, visitors immediately see the underside of the roof. This orientates the uninitiated and eases surveillance. Interiors are as spare as the exterior, dominated by white-washed brick walls and the roof’s underside, also white-washed but this time in timber. Both surfaces reveal structure. Walls are solid brickwork (640mm thick, with no insulation cavity or expansion joints necessary) and the soffit reveals the regular grid of primary and secondary timber sections, articulated with an apparently random arrangement of rooflights.

Windows are also arranged in an apparently haphazard way, reminiscent of Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa’s fine (but regularly imitated) Zollverein School, also in Germany. Here, ‘the windows are not constrained by the levels,’ explains partner Josè Gutierrez Marquez, ‘because the levels themselves are dislocated.

Windows are free to wander, creating an interference pattern that works with interlocking interiors.’ Glazing is set almost flush with the internal wall surface and framed in white-washed timber frames. From the outside this exaggerates the wall’s mass, while internally, the arrangement was inspired in part by the articulated window frames of Adalberto Libera’s Casa Malaparte in Capri, and in part by the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, where paintings hang in dense, irregular configurations.

Köpenick Library creates a powerful civic presence and redefines the town’s lost market square. The heavy and imposing walls provide a thermally stable environment for books, and also cultivate the tranquil atmosphere of a college cloister. For users who break from their books, the interiors also generate delight and intrigue, leading the eye in a dance from level to level, window to window, and from roof plane to roof plane, before returning to rest on the page once more.

Köpenick Library

Architect Bruno Fioretti Marquez Architekten with Nele Dechmann, Berlin

Engineer Studio C

Building services Winter Ingenieure

Photography Alessandr Chemollo

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