The architecture of the Swiss National Library

The Swiss National Library was built between 1927 and 1931 in the New Objectivity style and enjoys protected status as a listed building. It displays the qualities that characterise the avant-garde architecture of the 1920s and 1930s, namely clarity and an abundance of natural light.

Although the Swiss National Library (NL) dates back to 1895, it did not move into its current home until 1931. A nationwide competition was launched for the new building's design with the requirement that "the exterior of the building should reflect its purpose while eschewing all luxury, since it is a government facility." The winning design was by a group of architects comprising Alfred Oeschger (1900-1963), Emil Hostettler (1887-1972) and Josef Kaufmann (1882-1962), and the NL was constructed in the years from 1927 to 1931 in the New Objectivity style. At the time, it was one of the most modern buildings in the city of Bern. With its two wings and eight-storey book depository tower, its design is symmetrical from the rear. It features the clarity, objectivity, functionality and abundance of natural light that are characteristic of avant-garde architecture from the 1920s and 1930s.
 
The NL underwent comprehensive renovation and enlargement between 1994 and 2001, overseen by the National Library Architects Group (Architectengemeinschaft Landesbibliothek or alb for short), which consisted of Andreas Furrer (*1942), Kurt Moritz Gossenreiter (1941-2007) and Christoph Stuber (*1953). Since the building was already listed by this time, its exterior was left largely unchanged, but the interior was adapted to meet the needs of a modern library. The most striking change was the creation of seven storeys of underground storage below the eastern garden. This meant that not all of the tower was needed to store books, so part of it was opened up to the public and equipped with state-of-the-art workstations for library users. Four storeys of underground storage were added on the western side of the NL between 2005 and 2009.
 
The NL is a highly respected building and a superb combination of modern architecture and New Objectivity.

 

Source: Monica Bilfinger, "The Swiss National Library in Bern", Guides to Swiss Monuments, published in German by the Society for Art History in Switzerland (GSK) and the Federal Office for Buildings and Logistics (FBL), Bern, 2001

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