The foundation of the Free University in 1945 marked the rebirth of liberal education in Berlin after the war; since then it has occupied a central role in the intellectual life of the city. Today, with more than 39,000 students, it is the largest of Berlin’s three universities. This redevelopment scheme includes the restoration of its Modernist buildings and the creation of a new library.
The University’s mat-like campus was designed by Candilis Josic Woods Schiedhelm, and when the first phase was completed in 1973 it was hailed as a milestone in university design. The facade was designed by Jean Prouvé, following Le Corbusier’s ‘Modulor’ proportional system. It was fabricated from Cor-Ten steel, which has self-protecting corrosive characteristics. The rusty appearance of these buildings led to the nickname of ‘die Rostlaube’ − the ‘rust-bucket’. However, in the slender sections used by Prouvé the steel was prone to decay, which by the late 1990s had become extensive. As part of a comprehensive process of renewal the old cladding has been replaced with a new system detailed in bronze, which as it patinates over time emulates the color tones of the original.
The new library for the Faculty of Philology occupies a site created by uniting six of the University’s courtyards. Its four floors are contained within a naturally ventilated, bubble-like enclosure, which is clad in aluminum and glazed panels and supported on steel frames with a radial geometry. A translucent inner membrane filters daylight and creates an atmosphere of concentration, while occasional transparent openings allow glimpses of sunlight. The book-stacks are located at the center of each floor, with reading desks arranged around the perimeter. The serpentine profile of the floors creates a pattern in which each floor swells or recedes with respect to the one above or below it, generating a sequence of generous, light-filled spaces in which to work. Amusingly, the library’s cranial form has earned it a nickname of its own – ‘The Berlin Brain’.Location: Berlin, Germany Architect: Foster + Partners
Function: Library for the Faculty of Philology
Client: Senatsverwaltung fur Stadtentwicklung, User – Freie Universität Berlin
Consultants: Pichler Ingenieure, Höhler und Partner, Schmidt Reuter Partners / PIN Ingenieure, Buro Langkau Arnsberg, Buro Moll, Buro Noack, Kappes Scholz, Büro Peters, Hosser Hass und Partner, IFFT Karlotto Schott