by Anushka SharmaNov 27, 2023
When the management of Vratislavice nad Nisou wanted to build a new town library, they chose a dilapidated Roman Catholic Rectory in the heart of the district. IGI Library—the new town library for the neighbourhood of Liberec, located in the north of the Czech Republic, was planned as a multi-functional space, intended to accommodate a multifunctional hall, facilities for clubs, and a maternity centre. When they collaborated with Studio Atakarchitekti, little did they expect, that the project would go on to be a finalist in the Czech Architecture Award 2022.
The studio expressed that the idea was to create a new public place that acts as an extension—a smaller piazza, to the existing centre of Vratislavice, defined by a château garden and public buildings. The concept for the building and its surroundings was founded on the existent cadence of spaces and squares formed by neighbouring buildings—the lively centre of Vratislavice, that is co-created by the town hall, the culture centre, and the Castle Park. Implementing the existing pattern of connecting a public building to a public space, the intention was to allow for people to linger in and around the building.
While repurposing the rectory might stir curiosity among non-residents, it didn’t stir any astonishment among the town inhabitants. The rectory has previously acted as an orphanage, a kindergarten, and a vocational school. Over the years, the building has housed many functions, that weren’t originally intended, and this initiative by the administration has given it yet another life.
Since the existing structure could not house the entire programmatic requirement of IGI Library, an extension was planned. The architects focused on retaining the original charm of the existing structure and so, while there might have been inevitable changes to the internal layout to accommodate various functionalities, the facade has been preserved, nearly unaltered. Many layers of contrived modifications were stripped, and after insulation, the structure was restored with historic elements and details, brizolite plaster, wooden doors, and reproductions of the casement windows.
The structural system of the former rectory's roof was constructed of brick masonry walls and timber trusses, which supported a mansard roof. However, the original system couldn’t be retained because of considerable degradation to the timber ceiling, by high levels of humidity and woodworm. The new structure was recreated with reinforced concrete and steel beams, with the roof trusses matching the original form. The walls are internally lined with burnt bricks and the truss is covered with natural slate templates.
A significant portion of the terrain in front of the existing structure was removed, uncovering the basement walls, allowing sunlight to penetrate the semi-subterranean parts of the building, with the excavated pit becoming the base of the new plaza. The location, shape, and form of the new structure was determined by context (the rectory and the château garden) and regulations (tree protection zones and infrastructure network lines), resulting in a narrow, compact structure with a cinema hall in the lowest basement.
The semi-recessed floor of the rectory is given to the clubs, while the upper floors house the children's library. The rectory is connected to the new library building in the basement and first floor, through a fully transparent bridge. The shared basement functions as a multifunctional hall with a small lobby and a cloakroom in the vestibule, connecting the two buildings.
The architects facilitated a synergy between the building and the context, with the outdoors becoming an innate part of the indoor experience. Each opening lends a new perspective to visually interact with the surroundings, some even allowing the user to move out into the outdoors at multiple levels. The numerous fenestrations enable physical and visual access, redefining what a library design should entail. This multi-functional facility, thus, transforms into a place of discovery, community and interaction—with oneself and the world.
The new building was deliberately built in striking contrast to the existing structure, as a contemporary monolith, with reinforced concrete and black folded sheet metal—each part of the structure is a conversation between the past and the future. The top floor of the public library, the structure’s symbolic crown with its arching roof, offers the most stunning view which the public can absorb directly through the crowns of old castle leaf trees of the château garden, offering a tree-house-like experience. The bridge from the first floor of the library extension connects to the children’s library—built in the attic of the existing rectory. It generates multiplicity in its space, allowing kids to do many things, from reading peacefully in all sorts of hiding places, playing board games, studying with friends or watching their favourite YouTubers on computers.
The nature of architecture is surprisingly static in a world where humans transform incessantly on all levels—from societal to personal. Structures constructed to last for centuries seem immortal, until we realise how quickly these buildings made for specific functions become obsolete. The idea of demolishing these buildings to make new ones—that cater to evolved functions—does not go well with the urgent need for sustainability. In his book, Old Buildings, New Designs, Charles Bloszies emphasises how the demolition of existing buildings would create challenges for the preservation of architectural heritage. This project, then, becomes a great example of balance—with a seamless blend of the past and the present, without it pretending to be something it isn’t.
Name: IGI Library
Location: Vratislavice nad Nisou, Liberec, Czech Republic
Area: 852 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Architect: Studio Atakarchitekti
Construction engineer: David Mareček