Centrale Bibliotheek Rotterdam
Bridging old and new




The Rotterdam Central Library is one of the largest libraries in the Netherlands with more than 2.4 million visitors annually. The 6-story structuralist building, designed in 1977 by Van den Broek en Bakema, is one of the city’s beloved architectural curiosities. The distinctive and popular building has an important function for the city and its residents, but was by no means longer up to date, neither structurally, programmatically or in terms of sustainability, and in November 2021, Snøhetta was invited as one out of five design teams to create a proposal for the renewal of the library.

Technical details

Library, Renovation & Expansion
Design Proposal
Rotterdam, Netherlands

Photo: Ramka

The original library is shaped like a block of stacked terraces with a cascading cut-off corner, where a glass "waterfall" encapsulates the crisscrossing interior escalators. The eye catching bright, yellow-painted exterior pipes are the building's air-conditioning system. Characterized by a fairly dark and incomprehensible entrance and inner spaces, the library lacks transparency, has poor communication with the surrounding city, and has insufficient vertical infrastructure. Also, there was a wish for more diversity in terms of workplaces, study areas and places to stay.

Given the position of the building in the city and the mental value attached to this cultural hotspot, the design team wanted to make a statement. Not with the intention impress, but in line with how the building was once intended - to be a visible landmark connecting people and offer opportunity to increase knowledge.

Photo: Ramka

Our proposal is built upon six architectural concepts:

Reveal / Openbaren

Reveal describes the act of taking away the old, cascading waterfall and by this revealing today’s hidden interior spaces of the library.

The New Waterfall / Nieuwe Waterval

The New Waterfall is the new tower replacing the old crisscrossing interior escalators. Whereas the old library mostly will continue its current role of housing books, the new addition, acting like a ‘third space’ through its vertical flow of various floors, is allowing a wide range of interactions where experiences and knowledge can be shared.

Photo: Ramka

Photo: Ramka

Harbor / Haven

The library interior operates as a public port, a harbor. Like The New Waterfall, it aims to give Rotterdammers a place to feel like home, whether they are coming alone or with friends and study mates. In its materiality it is robust, colorful, and soft, mixed with rough concrete from the original structure and dark oak in all fixed shelving and walls.

Photo: Ramka

Photo: Ramka

Upwards / Opwaarts

Upwards is our façade concept. Where the new meets the old, the predominantly horizontal character of the existing façade changes direction to a vertical movement that is interwoven and carefully stitched with the horizontality of the existing building. In the meeting of the two directions a powerful upward movement results in a vertical distortion of the horizontality, giving dynamism and a distinct character to The New Waterfall. The design builds on the understanding that the meaning and content of the library by now literally is taking a change of direction.

Photo: Ramka

Tides / Getijde

We have chosen ‘tides’ to be the symbol of our sustainability concept. All Rotterdammers know that without the flood barriers, the North Sea easily could engulf the city – a threat coming closer in parallel with the impacts of global warming. As an awakening of this vulnerability, a water-roof pulsing like a ‘tide clock’ is installed above the atrium.

Rehabilitation is an important leveler in prolonging the life of any building, reducing environmental impacts, and bridging history and heritage with the future. The ambitions when transforming the library is firstly to keep the total CO2 footprint down by keeping everything that could be kept. When adding new, the focus is on useing materials with low CO2 footprint such as recycled and bio-based materials.

The existing roofs and terraces will change character to green/blue by replacing the existing bitumen roof with a moss sedum roof, grassland roofs and blue roof under PV. The blue colored facades have insect hotels, nesting and hiding boxes for sparrows, bats, and swifts. The proposed landscaping at ground level is irrigated and the greenery and planting enriches the biodiversity of the area.

Photo: Ramka

The green pavement / Stoep aan de Kolk

The Rotterdam Central Library is located between all the violence of energetic and outspoken architecture you find at the Binnerotte square. The city has always been characterized as the odd one out, which is proudly owned by its inhabitants, the Rotterdammers. Now, the building no longer manifests between the explicit icons surrounding it, despite being the initiator of this madness in the 1970s. We reclaim the building’s place at the square by giving it its missing pavement, a permeable and semi-public space that guides the cyclists and pedestrians to the various entrances around the building.

Photo: Ramka