STRASBOURG – The Strasbourg National University Library is no stranger to change. It was one of several monumental, Renaissance Revival buildings constructed in Strasbourg following Germany’s annexation of Alsace in 1871. It saw its territory returned to France at the end of the First World War, and it underwent major renovations due to damage caused by the Second. This month, the library is reopening after another massive rehabilitation lead by ANMA, who were inspired by the building’s monumental roots.
The nature of the renovation is best communicated in section; interior spaces have been drastically simplified and de-cluttered in order to clarify the building’s basic volumes. A central atrium – historically segmented in stacked spaces and now a continuous, vertical space – benefits the most from ANMA’s clean-up. ‘The operation relied on removing parasitic elements that interfered with a reading of the original quality of the atrium,’ they say. ‘The library’s identity is embodied in this exceptional volume.’
The atrium is central to the library’s plan, and the dramatic spiral staircase that now ascends through it is undoubtedly the renovation’s focal point. Along the stair’s inner edge, 120 stainless steel cables rise into the space, gathering about six metres shy of the ceiling, and finally spreading to trace a square at the atrium’s peak. The feature is unmistakably modern, yet its simplicity and sheer size evoke the library’s monumental underpinnings.
The stair is certainly not the renovation’s only modern component. While the library’s exterior was preserved in its original state, its interior, at least in terms of finishes and furnishings, has been entirely redone. ‘In contrast to the outer envelope,’ say the architects, ‘all of the structural elements and interior partitions have been transformed to meet the modern-day regulations and functional requirements of a 21st-century library.’