Architectural icon: National Library of Luxembourg

The National Library of Luxembourg (BnL) houses more than 1.8 million printed documents and publications. Luxembourg’s collective memory, it is an essential cornerstone of the country’s heritage, but also the first scientific and university library in the Grand Duchy.

Scientific, academic and cultural

The BnL collects, catalogs and stores all printed and digital publications published in Luxembourg and all works published abroad concerning the Grand Duchy. Its academic and scientific status means that around three-quarters of its print collection comes from abroad (and two-thirds of the library’s funding also comes from foreign institutions). In addition to printed publications, the library offers its readers an ever-increasing number of digital documents ranging from e-books and e-journals to digitized Luxembourgish works, archival documents and web pages.

The space also houses the Bicherbus, as well as the libraries of the Grand-Ducal Institute and the Luxembourg Society of Prehistory.

The 112 million euro building was designed to showcase the library’s treasures, provide meeting spaces and educational rooms, and an atmosphere of both reflection and study, debate and exchange .

german architects Bolles + Wilson from Münster designed many music halls and schools, and were tasked with making the space not only functional as a library and for storing valuable documents, but also as energy efficient and sustainable as possible. The library opened its doors at the end of 2019.

The building and the archives

The paving of the square and the foyer is the same, inviting to enter

Photo: Anouk Antoine

Located at the intersection of avenue JF Kennedy and boulevard Konrad Adenauer in the Bricherhaff district of Kirchberg, the building nevertheless stands out, in particular for its exterior and its atypical shape, its red cement facade and its partly raised roof. 10m extra to allow it to be seen and recognized from a distance, and to make it inviting to enter.

The building is divided into three areas:

  1. The entrance area with a reception area on two floors, delimited by the floor of the conference rooms and consultation areas.
  2. The intermediate zone has more outward-facing consultation decks, with a glazed facade.
  3. The area to the northwest has five levels of storage in which the main heritage collections are stored, and above which is the main reading room which opens onto the treetops of Grunewald Park.

Considering the library’s valuable cargo which includes medieval manuscripts, maps, plans, prints, posters and artists’ books, the storage depots are designed to be secure and provide the right conditions.

That is why the compact five-tiered archive sits in the center of the building, surrounded by a packing of stone-filled gabion cages. This allows the archives to remain stable at 18 degrees, which is important for the preservation of historical documents.

The archive itself is then surrounded by public spaces and a plateau above, which incorporates the reading room and the bridge and shelving areas.

Precast Red Concrete Patchwork

The facade of the library is not only colorful but energy efficient. The main building is marked by large-scale exposed concrete blocks tinted red, while windows and doors are framed in white precast exposed concrete. The red precast concrete panels look like a quilt on purpose, due to a variety of surface treatments including water, sandblasting and acid washing. Bolles + Wilson are known for their use of bright red materials and precise geometries.

The raised central area and the red color make it immediately recognizable

The raised central area and the red color make it immediately recognizable

Photo: Pierre Matge

The facade is designed as a glazed curtain wall on two levels with a double entrance door, while the forecourt, in natural stones, continues from the outside into the foyer with the same stone, creating a continuity of the street at the library.

A city-like interior

The reading rooms allow approximately 300,000 works to be directly accessible to readers, and the spaces have many workstations, but also more relaxed seating. If you just want to return a book, an automated book transport system allows you to return it 24 hours a day.

The BNL - the National Library of Luxembourg offers many books in English that you can borrow - paperbacks, hardcovers or digital for e-readers

The BNL – the National Library of Luxembourg offers many books in English that you can borrow – paperbacks, hardcovers or digital for e-readers

Photo: Chris Karaba

From the terraces of the reading room, visitors can see the whole space. The layout is not unlike a city, with wider and narrower roads and plazas for reading and learning. The special red reading room is the heart of the library and is lit up at night so you can see it from outside the building.

The first floor exhibition rooms are designed to allow the library to display some of its treasures – which it has done, including an excellent one on the photograph of Francis Frith, and the current exhibition on James Joyce and the rose district of the city.

Unlike the old library, the new BnL building has spaces for heritage appreciation activities, conferences and seminars and even a small cafe with a terrace. And despite its multifunctional requirements, the library retains a certain homogeneity, in its reinforced concrete walls, stairs and corridors. White walls, wooden windows and doors are brightened up by bright colors on the floors and furniture.

Energetic efficiency

The main principles of technical and energy design are efficient insulation and sealing of the building envelope, solar protection and thermal inertia to maintain a constant temperature in summer and winter and avoid temperature-related deterioration.

In fact, the technical installations for energy efficiency take second place compared to the activation of the thermal mass of the building to maintain the indoor climate.

The system uses the latest energy-efficient equipment to maximize thermal comfort, minimize heat loss, and cool and ventilate the building as naturally as possible. Night cooling takes advantage of the renewable energy available in the air.

Geothermal heat pumps are installed under the foundations, and “solar” photovoltaic panels on the roof. The interior materials were chosen for their thermal absorption capacity to allow the building to eradicate extreme temperatures at night. The long-span glulam roof structure is thermally activated by air circulation in the roof layer.

Additionally, the design of the library provides a high degree of natural lighting. The white glass lights on the shelves and even the reading table lamps are all specially designed and LED.

Flexible signage

The signage used by the National Library of Luxembourg pays homage to the public character of the building, emphasizing the space and making navigation intuitive. It uses number and alphabet cubes in a modular signage system, which are easy to change and customize, as the library’s collection fluctuates and grows.

Visit the library

The reading room and the media library are open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The loan and return and information desks are open on weekdays until 7 p.m. and on Saturdays until 6 p.m. The exhibition space on the first floor is open when the library is open. You can find more information here.

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