Architecture critics are hailing Oslo’s new city library, which officially opened on Thursday under the new name Deichman Bjørvika. It’s a lively statement of a new strategy for libraries, according to newspaper Klassekampen. It fits every ideal for a modern library, wrote newspaper Aftenposten. Reviewers disagree, however, on whether the actual book collection has the place it deserves.
Kåre Bulie, an art and culture correspondent for Klassekampen, voiced concern that the area of the new library that holds the most books is down in the basement.
“I can’t keep myself from thinking that this is a sign of the times that doesn’t only bode well,” Bulie wrote. The basement is open to the public, though, and just a short way from the main entrance.
Bulie pointed out that that while Deichman’s old main library invited to solitary work in silence, a remarkable number of chairs in the new one are placed in groups and around tables. In contrast, quiet zones are limited. “If there’s one thing that shines clearly through in this new building, it’s that the days when the library was first and foremost a place to read, are long gone,” Bulie wrote.
The library building was designed by architect firms Lund Hagem og Atelier Oslo. Interior design was executed by a firm called Scenario. Deichman is located in Oslo’s new Bjørvika district, next to the Opera that opened in 2008 and close to the new Munch museum, which is scheduled to open later in 2020.
Built for books
Weekly Morgenbladet‘s architecture columnist Gaute Brochmann, meanwhile, found what he called a “proper library, built on the books’ terms.” He said fears of a multimedia house of culture full of screens and stages and workshops at the expense of literature have turned out to be unjustified. Instead, the new library is full of books. And although its interior is open, airy and well-organized, it doesn’t feel like an airport lounge. It has plenty of intimate places allowing the visitor to hide away and seek protection, just like a library should have. “In their search for the difficult balance between these two qualities, architects have hit their goal very well,” Brochmann wrote.
Each floor is arranged around series of light and transportation shafts, which in turn are surrounded by bookshelves, and topped with a mezzanine that holds even more shelves. Thus, the main floors have two levels packed with books. Perhaps that’s intended as a friendly nod to Deichman’s former main library and the galleries that dominated the interior there, Brochmann suggested.
In his two-page critique in the up-market Morgenbladet, Brochmann called the new Deichman library “a true-born child of 2009, when architects competed for the contract” to build it. “You need to look no further than the adjacent Munch museum, whose architect competition was won the same year, to find the zeitgeist of that period.”
“Faced with the library’s large, uniform facades and grey, semi-transparent finish, my first thought is that it has been designed on one side of a paradigm shift, and built on another.” Referring to the library and its two neighbours, Brochmann said he’s happy that this kind of facade and volume is on its way out. “They’re poorly matched to Oslo’s historical building mass, and aren’t sufficently sensitive to the needs and use by humans.”
Weekly Dag og Tid pointed out that Deichman’s heavy emphasis on basic book displays goes directly against the mainstream ideas in Norway’s library world. In recent years, several libraries have reinvented themselves into cultural centers full og stages and auditoriums, while throwing out mountains of books. This change of priorities actually complies with a 2013 amendment of Norway’s library law, stating that a library should be “an independent meeting place and arena for public dialogue and debate.”
Improving s massive neighbourhood
Erling Dokk Holm, a scholar of Norway’s University of Life Sciences (NMBU) and a columnist in newspaper Aftenposten, hailed all the designers for a piece of work that makes the creations of other architects look even better. “It’s been shaped to improve these urban spaces”, Dokk Holm wrote, adding that the library “humanizes” the neighbourhood by easing Bjørvika’s somewhat massive expression.
He did not agree with Klassekampen‘s Bulie that books appear to be tucked away in a dark place. In terms of content, Dokk Holm argued, it’s more than a classic library. Like most libaries these days, it offers lectures, classes and similar activities. But those offerings are not allowed to dominate: “First and foremost this is a palace for encounters between books and humans.”
Dokk Holm pointed to the library’s exterior and the way it changes in different light. “By day, its milky white glass facades seem neutral and modest. But when darkness falls and lights are turned on inside, modesty is replaced by warmth and openness,” he said. He pointed out that the library serves a double purpose, as a place for reading and learning, and as a public space: “It makes Bjørvika more populous, intense and relevant.”
The new library, formally opened by Crown Prince Haakon on Thursday, will now remain open every day and even late into the evenings. Corona control measures are in place, but as many as 1,000 are being allowed into Oslo’s new “palace for literature” at a time.