Royal Library in Copenhagen | Schmidt Hammer Lassen | Architecture

First multifunctional library in Denmark turns 10

A remarkable and innovative building of its time, the extension to the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen celebrates its 10-year anniversary this week.

When the Royal Library in Copenhagen opened to the public 10 years ago, there was general concern in society that libraries might become redundant in the future. But contrary to this, the role and influence of libraries are positioned to increase as our civic and ‘free’ space diminishes Libraries are needed as much as ever in the 21st century as hubs for information, research, learning, communication and culture.

A timeless cultural landmark, schmidt hammer lassen architects' sharp monolith in black marble with its tilting angles on the port of Copenhagen is attracting many tourists and citizens for its architecture. However, the library is also hailed for the new values it set out to introduce: The library as an open, democratic institution embracing not only the study of books but opening up to many other media and cultural activities.

The Royal Library was ahead of its time and the first in Denmark to introduce such groundbreaking values to a previously dusty institution. Many cities around the world are erecting impressive new libraries all adding ever more functions to the institution and not even calling it a library anymore.

The digitalization of media will have an even more profound impact on the libraries in the future while still leaving room for the traditional book. In collaboration with the pioneering public library in Aarhus on the mainland of Denmark, schmidt hammer lassen architects are now developing just such a library for the future called Urban Mediaspace.

The company won the international competition for the 30.000 m2 library earlier this year. The architecture of the building with its open levels and visual contact to the outside world will embrace all new media, experiment with new formats and new ways of learning, networking and socializing. At the same time its function as a 24/7 pivot of the city’s cultural life is secured through informal meeting places and venues for cultural events.

The range of the practice library work extends from The Royal Library in Copenhagen, to the above mentioned Urban Mediaspace, to the design of public community libraries in Sweden, Denmark and the UK. This diversity has developed the practice’s understanding of the issues pertinent to contemporary library and learning space design; how to design for the future at a time where technology is moving so rapidly; how to mix and balance a variety of activities from studying to socialising to storing books; how to design sustainably, in the widest possible sense.

The creation of the Royal Library paved the way for Schmidt hammer lassen architects to become experts on libraries.

“We are drawn to these projects for their potential to engage the public and not only to give cultural and social life to their cities and towns but also for their ability to work as a accelerator for learning and knowledge,” reflects Founding Partner Bjarne Hammer, 10 years after the practice first library was inaugurated.


The Royal Library figures among the architectural icons on the Copenhagen waterfront.
The extension to the library is an imaginatively conceived monolith of seven storeys – a sculptured casket clad in lustrous black granite.
The classic cube is animated by the facades’ strikingly tilted planes and obliquely sheared surfaces, and by the airy, glazed ground floor that allows the “diamond” to float.
A broad “crevasse” cleaves the mass into two, creating space for a light-filled atrium.
A large, vibrant, organic space set on the axis that connects the water with the city – and the new library building with the old.

Apart from housing the library’s key functions, the extension incorporates a bookshop, café, restaurant, a clutch of research centres and archives, a roof terrace and the Queen’s Hall, seating 600 and providing a venue for concerts, stage performances and conferences. The library extension sits on the new plaza Søren Kierkegaard Plads – a popular focal point at the heart of the bustling life of the city.
The Royal Library (DK)
Søren Kierkegaards Plads, Copenhagen, Denmark
Area:28,000m2, New build extension 21,000 m2.
Refurbishment: 7,000 m2
Construction period:1995 - 1999
Award:1st prize
Competition type:Open, international - 1993
Client:Ministry of Culture
Architect: schmidt hammer lassen
Engineer: Moe & Brødsgaard
Others: Acoustics: Anders Gade
Distinction: Copenhagen Municipality’s Architecture Prize 2000Nykredits Arkitekturpris 2001 (the Nykredit Architecture Prize 2001)Nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Award 2000Du Pont Benedictus Award 2003