Swiss Eye-Opener

Motorized louvers at Santiago Calatrava's new law school faculty library at Zurich University let just the right amount of daylight shine through.
August 11, 2010

For decades, the growing needs of Zurich University were met by structures erected on the outskirts of the city. In recent times, however, attempts have been made to increase the density of the existing facilities in the historical university district in the city center.

The faculty of law, hitherto scattered over eight different locations, was to be united and the library extended. The original L-shaped building dates from 1908 and was designed as a laboratory. Twenty years later, this was complemented with a further, lower, angular tract, to create a central courtyard. This extension has been raised in height by the addition of a structure in steel and glass that accommodates the administration, bookstores, and reading rooms. The faculty spaces are housed in the old buildings. Structurally discrete, yet at the heart of the development, is the main section of the new library.

Supported on steel columns in what was formerly the courtyard, the new development, designed by Santiago Calatrava, impinges on the old structure at only four points. Six elliptical rings, increasing in size toward the top, are stacked above each other to form a gigantic atrium crowned by a glazed roof.

In summer, hydraulically operated louvers provide shading for the internal space. The reading places are oriented to the central atrium and are laid out in rows along the wooden balustrade, from which there are views to the gallery levels opposite. The study area is closed off to the rear by bookshelves, behind which is a further light well that brings daylight into the old part of the building.

The entrance to the library is via the rear courtyard, while access to the various faculties is from the street. Visitors can make their way along corridors from the library to the entrance lobby, where there are cloakroom facilities and an information column. Having passed the checkpoint at the entrance, one has access to the foyer, from which there is a good view of the relationship between the old and new sections of the building.

This article originally appeared in our sister publication Detail, a German-based architectural review journal now available in an English version. For a subscription, visit:www.detail.de/english.