Playwright Henrik Ibsen’s legacy gets a new home through Kengo Kuma’s design

Devoted to the Norwegian playwright, the Ibsen Library by Kengo Kuma and Associates and Mad Arkitekter is set to become a cultural hub located at a prominent intersection in Skien.

by STIRworldPublished on : Mar 27, 2021

Designed by Kengo Kuma and Associates in collaboration with Mad Arkitekter, the Ibsen Library in Norway has been built to create an arena of inclusion, openness, and integration of art as a resource in the society.  Located in Skien, the birthplace of the celebrated 19th century playwright and theatre director Henrik Ibsen, often referred to as "the father of realism", the Ibsen Library is an attempt to realise the dream of making Ibsen’s drama and literature accessible to everyone.

The concept diagram for Ibsen Library | Ibsen Library by Kengo Kuma | STIRworld
The concept diagram for Ibsen Library Image: Courtesy of Kengo Kuma & Associates

This particular design was the winning entry for a recent competition, developed by Buro Happold Engineering. The Ibsen Library, in unison with the Ibsen House, is set to become a new cultural centre of the city. Located at a prominent intersection, the structure links important public and cultural facilities, namely the School of Culture and the sports hall. Going a step further, the firms have integrated a library with additional amenities, a tourist information kiosk, and a National Ibsen Centre, ensuring their design enhances the cultural ecosystem of the neighbourhood, making the Ibsen Library a new feather in Skien’s cap.

Ibsen Library - concept diagram and axonometric section | Ibsen Library by Kengo Kuma | STIRworld
Ibsen Library - concept diagram and axonometric section Image: Courtesy of Kengo Kuma & Associates

An official statement by Kengo Kuma-led Japanese architecture firm says, "Ibsen Library would act as the new cultural hub that houses activities of people in daily life and to be the new destination for the visitors. Our intent is to reflect the nature of the Silver Vein in Ibsen’s writing, implemented in the urban fabric for a continuous journey through the cityscape to the library with moments of unexpected encounters”.

Ibsen Library alongside Ibsenhuset, Norwegian cultural centre in the city of Skien | Ibsen Library by Kengo Kuma | STIRworld
Ibsen Library alongside Ibsenhuset, Norwegian cultural centre in the city of Skien Image: Courtesy of MIR, Kengo Kuma & Associates

The library stands on a small park in city central, parallel to the Ibsenhuset, the city’s centre and concert hall, also named after Henrik Ibsen. The park is one of the highlights of the site and is connected to the library with a landscape feature. The sloping terrain acts as a natural open amphitheatre with a stage at the bottom of the slope. During performances, the audiences can make themselves comfortable around the slope. The indirect lighting in the steps of the outdoor amphitheatre gives a subtle glow to the entire park. Though the park is currently hidden, with the integration of the new library, the park will soon expose its face to the city. The curvilinear structure embraces the surrounding trees along the park to provide a series of seamless indoor and outdoor spaces.

Embracing the existing maple trees, the library shares a deep connection with the park | Ibsen Library by Kengo Kuma | STIRworld
Embracing the existing maple trees, the library shares a deep connection with the park Image: Courtesy of MIR, Kengo Kuma & Associates

The architecture reflects inspiration drawn from the Silver Vein (vein of silver ore in the mountain) in Ibsen’s writing. Ibsen’s presence is felt everywhere in the library, from objects to bookshelves. Visible to the city, the display along the exterior is an homage to Ibsen’s literary legacy. 

The design integrates bookshelves that function as gentle spatial separators and a spontaneous seating arrangement for the visitors | Ibsen Library by Kengo Kuma | STIRworld
The design integrates bookshelves that function as gentle spatial separators and a spontaneous seating arrangement for the visitors Image: Courtesy of MIR, Kengo Kuma & Associates

The footprint of the Ibsen Library extends across the entire site boundary to accommodate a generous floor area at the ground and underground levels. Neither of the floors is built with fixed walls, instead low bookshelves have been designed as spatial separators. The ground floor is graced with a beautiful view of the park. The cafe and children's section are on the ground floor. This enables the visitors to take complete advantage of the park and library simultaneously. The two levels are spatially distinct. The sunken terrain makes one feel protected and hidden from the world. It is a quiet and intimate space specially designed for adults. The ground plane gradually lowers into multiple wide steps, integrated with bookshelves that also function as gentle separations. These bookshelves provide a spontaneous seating arrangement for the visitors.

  • Timber is one of the predominant materials used in the design | Ibsen Library by Kengo Kuma | STIRworld
    Timber is one of the predominant materials used in the design Image: Courtesy of MIR, Kengo Kuma & Associates
  • The warmth of the interior design contrasts with cold climate of the country | Ibsen Library by Kengo Kuma | STIRworld
    The warmth of the interior design contrasts with the cold climate of the country Image: Courtesy of MIR, Kengo Kuma & Associates

The Ibsen Library predominantly uses natural materials in its design. The floor is finished with timber that gradually shifts to earthy tones to emphasise the bond between the library and its surroundings. The roof has been designed using soft textured shingles, creating a porous screen that filters sunlight entering the library building. The glazed exterior walls give a magical touch to the whole structure by making the roof look like it is floating in the air.

  • The glazed walls of the library keep visitors constantly engaged with nature | Ibsen Library by Kengo Kuma | STIRworld
    The glazed walls of the library keep visitors constantly engaged with nature Image: Courtesy of MIR, Kengo Kuma & Associates
  • The sharp form of the roof has been given a soft touch through the use of wood shingles | Ibsen Library by Kengo Kuma | STIRworld
    The sharp form of the roof has been given a soft touch through the use of wood shingles Image: Courtesy of MIR, Kengo Kuma & Associates

The entire structure is an attempt to weave together elements of Ibsen’s literature and the building itself. “Trekrone takes up the dynamics of Ibsen's literature. The dizzying heights, the terrifying depths, the endless horizons and what clings like the sea or The Great Boyg, and closes like the mountain mines. With “tree” and “crown” as reoccurring figures that symbolise a path of life, ascending/descending moments, life and death. This makes it all a central desire for our architectural expression to interpret Ibsen's literature in architecture,” concludes Kengo Kuma and Associates.

Project Details

Name: Ibsen Library
Location: Skien, Norway
Program: Public Library, National Ibsen Centre, Democratic Corner, Tourist Information, Café, Landscape
Client: Skien Kommune
Architects:
Lead Architect: Kengo Kuma & Associates
Associate Architect: Mad Arkitekter
Floor Area: 7,760 m²
Competition Period: 2019 - 2020
Engineering Design: Buro Happold
Finalist first prize: Team KKAA: Kengo Kuma & Associates, Mad Arkitekter, Buro Happold Engineering
Other Pre-Qualified Entrants: Snøhetta, Transborder Studio, Schmidt Hammer Lassen, Atelier Oslo, Helen & Hard

(Text by Sharmin Oanali, intern at STIRworld.com)

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