Israel National Library in Jerusalem, Isreal, by Gil Even-Tsur Architecture Workshop, 2012.
The following text and images are courtesy Gil Even-Tsur Architecture Workshop for their competition entry for the National Library of Israel. A winner was selected (PDF link) in September 2012, but since then the National Library Construction Company has terminated the contract with the winner and has "announced that the architectural competition concluded without a selection of a winning architect."
The program and the site for the new National Library suggest that the architecture should be critical, strong, but also deferential and contextually responsive, displaying an almost aesthetic neutrality in terms of its form, assemblies, and materials. Our proposal provides an architecture that acknowledges this complexity.
We believe that the library architecture should frame and engage this now global and expanding nation/our difficult whole in a way that encourages growth, recovery, and discovery. Some national libraries are mainly about the preservation of a specific historical knowledge or national identity. Some are about more. We understand that this library is about far more, and the architecture must enable this in both function and experience.
Our proposal is critical. Architecture should avoid being prisons or mirror-traps (expressing a perfect, unyielding, unchanging structure which would fail to inspire the real work ahead). The design concept for our entry seeks to acknowledge this often very credible criticism of state sponsored architecture. The 20th-century philosopher-librarian George Bataille suggested that "…great monuments are erected like dikes, opposing the logic and majesty of authority against all disturbing elements; it is in the form of cathedral or palace that Church or State speaks to the multitudes and imposes silence upon them. It is, in fact, obvious that monuments inspire social prudence and often even real fear." Bataille went on to explain that "architecture captures society in the trap of the image it offers... and [it] does not express the soul of societies, but rather smothers it…"
We believe we can avoid designing a mirror-trap, and our current design concept is only a step in the process. We believe that our most important work is not defending, fortifying, defining ourselves/our societies, but exploring and improving ourselves/our societies. We are strong when we are open to change. The goal of our architecture is to fully engage this criticism of architecture and the state through a form that resists singularity in favor of multiplicity and complexity, while still seeking beauty, function, and strength of composition.
Our proposal does not have a classically dramatic entry. All paths do eventually arrive at one main entry lobby, but we believe this site and the program present opportunities to define several equally considered arrival paths. One arrives by car, bus, tram, bike, or foot, and each will be very important for the library. By car, if parking below the library levels, visitors and employees will arrive from the garage and ascend via an open elevator platform, within a column of light/a hanging garden, open to views into the diverse library spaces. Both pedestrian paths, similar to the elevator platforms, offer views into and through the library program spaces. Those arriving from the north enter a modest plaza, and their experience of the building begins with a sloping courtyard garden, and introduces a glimpse of the reading room to the south. After entering a gracious plaza, tree filled and with a large fountain, the pedestrian path from the south offers more of an intimate street-scaled experience in which visitors are introduced to cafes, restaurants, and bookshops on one side, laboratories on the other. When one crosses the building from side to side, north to south, one is exposed to the many layers of activities that are the new National Library.
The new library will have a primary structural system composed of deep cast-in-place concrete beams and thermally active floor slabs optimized for systems integration and weight. Hung from this concrete frame is a secondary steel, glass, and stone envelope system composed of thin weathering steel plates and beams carrying insulated skylight and curtain wall assemblies. Wood elements are also incorporated into the design of
certain interior elements adjacent to the glazed curtain walls. The enclosure is at times open to wide views of Jerusalem, and at other times it is simply warm, glowing with the color of the translucent stone. Still at other times it is closed, creating edges for work and more introspective thinking.
The building's program spaces are located according to optimal functional adjacencies described in the competition brief and potential synergies based on building geometry, etc.. The reading rooms are located on the second level, in tall, light filled spaces of varying proportions tuned to the interior workspace requirements. The library is a place for the individual as much as for its complex nation, and the architecture must support this fact. It supports our national/ social agendas, as well as our individual journeys within and without our nation.
Our proposal is for an architecture that is solid and strong, but flexible and anticipatory in its structural planning and systems integration. It is open, but safe. It is light filled without neglecting the importance of contrast and shadow. It presents a series of beautifully proportioned, calm, comfortable rooms for work. It is highly functional. The space for the individual researcher is no more or less considered than the space for the student tour group or employee. Finally, it is our goal that this architecture encourages encounters with the complexity of ourselves past, present and future.
Design team: Gil even-Tsur, Aaron Vaden-Youmans,Maya Rilov, David Bly, Jaeyual Lee, Amina Bouayad.