Kengo Kuma & Associates and Mad Arkitekter in collaboration with Buro Happold Engineering won the competition to design Ibsen Library in the city of Skien, Norway

The proposal seeks to interpret Ibsen’s literature into architecture while creating an open, engaging cultural hub in full integration with the existing Ibsen House and in harmony with the natural setting of the park.

“Trekrone” | Tree Crown

Concept description by Yuki Ikeguchi, Partner in charge, Kengo Kuma & Associates

Democratic Keystone

Skien is the birthplace of world-renowned playwright Henrik Ibsen, creator of iconic characters such as Nora of A Doll’s House, Peer Gynt, Brand, The Master Builder and Hedvig of The Wild Duck.

The Ibsen Library is the result of a desire to make Ibsen’s drama and literature accessible to everyone. A new library will be integrated with residents’ services, tourist information and a National Ibsen Centre.

Skien municipality also has bold ambitions regarding Ibsen Library’s contribution to the maintenance and development of democracy, as an arena of inclusion, openness, and integration of art as a resource in society.

A New Urban Fabric

The selected site at the Cultural Quarter for the Ibsen Library offers a great potential to create a new cultural core in the city of Skien. The unity of the Ibsen House and the Library would create the firm thread of the New Urban Fabric to be woven over the areas, linking important public and cultural facilities such as the School of Culture and the new sports hall. The site is situated in the prominent crossing point of the flow from various directions. Our urban planning strategy for the project is to take full advantage of this critical location by drawing in the flow into the new library to activate the urban scene.

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. For the aim of achieving an active flow and an inviting setting, our proposal is strategically planned with multiple accesses from all directions at every level. The park being on of the most attractive elements of the site, our aim is to connect the park with a softscape in a gentle down slope so to create a wider aperture to the city in a more spontaneous and inviting manner. Currently the park is rather hidden, but our new proposal will expose its face to the city. The curvilinear footprint of the new library is carefully drawn around the existing trees, along the perimeter of the park in an embracing configuration to create seamless indoor and outdoor spaces. The soft curved landscaping roof of the new Library lays low towards the park to relate to the human scale and rises up towards the city’s urban scale. The architecture volume of the Library expresses its distinctive presence together with the well recognized Ibsen House as a new cultural core.

“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 symbolize 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.

Hence the planning strategy of the Ibsen Library is to reflect the nature of the Silver Vein. It is not with fixed, rigid walls, but an open plan in free flow, non-linear path that one discovers by experiencing the spaces. The Silver Vein as the exhibition program required in the brief is implemented, not in one concentrated zone, but it runs through the entire project in unexpected manner. Ibsen exhibition appears everywhere in various media, objects, prints, paint in screen mostly in back to back display with the bookshelves. The display along the exterior wall is visible towards the city that announces the presence of Ibsen to the greater extent.

Performative Library

The footprint of the new Ibsen Library is planned to the full extent of the site boundary to accommodate as generous floor area at the ground and underground levels as possible. Both levels have open plans free of fixed walls but with low bookshelves acting as soft dividers. The ground floor is seamlessly connected and exposed entirely to the park with incredible trees. Programs that seek for the open activities such as café, children area, are placed on the ground floor to take full advantage of the park with the opportunities of spilling out to the nature.

The underground experience offers a different spatial character from the above ground. It is designed as if the terrain is sunken, that one would feel submerged, protected, and nested under the earth. It is a quiet, calm and intimate space mostly dedicated to adult use, and partly for a children area that is connected to the above ground. Floor level gradually lowers in multiple wide steps. It is entirely accessible with a gentle slope and bookshelves are integrated in the slope acting as soft separations among the various heights. Steps are to be used for spontaneous seating.

The opportunity for the performance is found everywhere in the underground terrain configuration, the above ground towards the urban view and at the outdoor amphitheater in the nature. The architectural base offers diverse opportunities for special scenography effects. They become a unique backdrop for spaces at each level that underlines the presence of Ibsen. The project departs from the conventional idea of the library with the space to focus on research, reading and study, but our proposal for this new library is the full integration of special and daily activities.

The architecture of the Ibsen Library is generated in focus to connect to the park, enjoy the natural setting and to activate the park for special events and everyday activities.

The entire stretch of the curvilinear façade towards the park is fully transparent and open to the natural setting to achieve seamless outdoor and indoor space. In comfortable seasons windows can be opened for fresh air and one could enjoy reading, protected under the shade of the tree crown and sensing the scent of green.

Currently the park is rather quiet and hidden but in integration with the new space of the library it will be fully activated with spontaneous flow of people and spill out of the indoor activities. All active and open programs are placed at the ground floor. The café, children’s activity area and the Silver Vein have opportunities for spilling out to the immediate outdoor spaces for dining, reading, workshops and various activities. The new down slope terrain connection to the city side would be a unique and special venue for performances and events. It can be a natural open amphitheater with the stage being at the bottom of the slope. Audience seating can be all around the stage and to be viewed from the interior space of the library. The continuous deep and light eaves serve to protect the approach ways and offer comfortable spaces for spontaneous activities and seating. The new terrain configuration extends to the city side and can also provide comfortable and unique seating areas for gathering.

The use of natural material is one of the focus in designing Ibsen Library.

The library would be in harmony with the rich trees in the park and would create a tangible texture, warmth and scent of nature that appeals to our senses. It would be a suitable, comfortable environment for learning and creation. The interior floors and walls are extensively finished with timber on the ground floor where it changes to earthy tone render material to express the feeling of being in the terrain. The exterior walls are mostly with glazing to give maximum transparency to the surroundings as well as to give the roof a floating sensation.

The wood shingle, commonly used for the traditional Norwegian buildings, is selected for the roof construction to echo the scale of the leaves, how they are fragmented, and it gives a very soft texture to the architecture. It echoes the scale of the books as if the roof skin is composed with loose pages. The wood shingle elements are detailed in a special way as porous screens over the skylights to filter the natural light into the interior spaces in a similar way of tree leaves filtering the light. In the dark seasons of the year and during the evening, the light from the interior of the library leaks out from the skylights to give a soft glow. With the indirect lighting implemented in the steps of the outdoor amphitheater the entire park will glow in a subtle way. The evening sets another attractive scenography to experience the park and the library.

Diagrams, drawings & model

Facts & Credits
Competition  Ibsen Library in the city of Skien, Norway
Awards  1st prize
Program  Public Library, National Ibsen Centre, Democratic Corner, Tourist Information, Café, Landscape
Floor area  7,760 m2
Date  2019 – 2020
Client  Skien Kommune

Project team  Kengo Kuma & Associates, Mad Arkitekter, Buro Happold Engineering
Lead Architect_Kengo Kuma & Associates
Team  Kengo Kuma (Principal), Yuki Ikeguchi (Partner in Charge), Marc Moukarzel (Chief Project Manager), Jagoda Krawczyk, Nicolas Guichard, Asger Taarnberg, Carlos Roig Gimenez, Italo Mazzoleni, Hiromichi Kamiya, Tomohiro Matsunaga, Benan Ataulusoy, Aglaia Danai Devetzoglou
Associate Architect_Mad Arkitekter
Team  Torkel Njå, Jens Walter, Monica Bellika Esaiassen, Léo Lesage
Engineering design_Buro Happold
Team  Max Doelling, Peter Konnerup, Jose Allerhand, Daniya Doelling
Rendering  MIR, Kengo Kuma & Associates