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Six Proposals Unveiled for Expanding Asplund’s Iconic Stockholm City Library


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Images courtesy the Swedish Association of Architects


“It’s like a woman’s shoe,” Inga Lundén says. “It looks large on the outside, but it’s quite tight when you put it on.” Lundén is the city librarian of Stockholm, and she is speaking of the iconic Stockholm City Library.

Designed by Gunnar Asplund, the 79-year-old library is a postcard for classically inspired Modernism. On February 8, the City of Stockholm unveiled six concepts shortlisted for its expansion. These designs were chosen from 1,170 entries received since May: one of the largest architecture competitions ever conducted, the city claims. For now, the library is keeping the finalists’ names under wraps.

Currently the main Asplund building is a drum-shaped volume that rests atop a rectilinear base. Although it has accreted several annexes over the years, the 34,400-square-foot complex is equivalent to a library in a mid-size Swedish city, Lundén says. It is unable to accommodate expanding collections, much less host large public programs: “It fits 40 to 50 people, so we can only have boring authors for readings!” The site also poses challenges. Asplund’s original structure abuts Observatory Hill, one of the highest but least accessed green spaces in Stockholm.

Each of the six finalists address the complex’s space constraints as well as its contextual relationship. Submission number 0823, entitled “Book Hill,” proposes demolishing a row of annexes adjacent to the Asplund building and replacing them with a sloping addition whose switchback roof would provide pedestrian access to the crest of Observatory Hill.

Three other entries exploit the hill as a backdrop for the Asplund building. “Dikthörnan” wraps it like a plinth, with an irregular interior edge and an orthogonal front. “Blanket” envisions a terraced extension of the hillside. And, arguing that “there is no need for one more nice big volume in the tight spot,” the project entitled “Cut” incises Observatory Hill, inserting a soaring glazed interior where there is currently solid rock.

The entry “Delphinium” offers a counterpoint to Asplund’s material palette—which consists of stucco-clad brick and stone—by covering itself in a white glass printed with namesake flowers. “Nosce te ipsum” leaves the annex footprints ostensibly unchanged.

In the second stage of competition, participants will develop their concepts according to a more refined brief. Katarina Nilsson, the competition jury secretary, says that a winner will be announced November 16.

David Sokol