A beating green heart for Alphen aan den Rijn

, 26 Nov 2020

After years of temporary locations, it was about time to find a permanent base: The central library of Alphen aan den Rijn (Netherlands) moved to a brand-new home. This is not an everyday place; the building is shared with a parking garage, a bike shed, and other public services, including a tourist office. The result is a dynamic, multifunctional meeting spot in the heart of the city.

The completely energy-neutral building design by the architect Common Affairs is part of a major inner-city redevelopment and resembles a mix between a station and a market hall. Despite its large size, the building blends in with the cityscape thanks to its green facade, warm orange brickwork, and rich detailing. In addition to the library, the building houses the Heritage Center, the city archive, the House of Sustainability and a tourist information office. The aatvos team won the tender to develop the interior design of the new Alphen Centrum Library, part of Bibliotheek Rijn en Venen library group, and partnered with MARS Interieurarchitecten for this task. 

An intentionally imperfect layout creates a relatable, informal interior that feels personal.

Aat Vos Aat Vos Creative Director at aatvos

Meeting the users’ needs

The mission of the library organization needed to be reflected clearly in the interior design: to inspire and to connect locals through developing their talents and stimulating personal growth. Creative Director Aat Vos explains: “The spatial composition of the imposing staircase, the window frames and columns, together with the ‘green’ character, as designed by Common Affairs, already formed a strong basis for the interior. However, the result of a series of workshops with the library team and local stakeholders provided relevant insights that gave the necessary depth to the interior concept.” For example, the staircase in the heart of the building, together with the adjoining cabinet wall, forms a ‘green ribbon’ that connects the two and creates an organic floor plan. 

Within this plan are multiple ‘anchors’, like a reading café (KADE 10), an activity room that can be programmed by the library users, a historical archive, an e-lab (De Maakplaats), and an artwork called ‘The Nest’. This striking creation by artist Femke van Gemert is made of recycled fabrics supplied by the people of Alphen. Both children and adults can take a seat in The Nest, either as a cozy retreat or to spend some quality time together. Some nifty surprises were also included: The children’s section offers several areas with low ceilings in which only kids can manage to stand upright. These areas for the little ones are complemented by an exclusive game space available for older kids. By giving the ‘anchors’ unique identities – sometimes open and dynamic, sometimes more secluded and intimate – the interior meets the needs of the various users of all age groups. 

De-institutionalized imperfection 

The library encourages casual connections and personal development. An intentionally imperfect layout creates a relatable, informal interior that feels personal.

To enhance the green character of both the city and the sustainable building, many green accents and natural materials were used in the interior, creating a park-like character. A high dose of natural light invites people to explore this forest of amazement. The cabinets are all unusually designed and look like branches lying randomly in the room. One of the natural elements is the staircase that is covered with a moss green carpet. On top, a number of walls and rugs have prints of leaves and stone. Various services are located in lockable wooden rooms or steel greenhouses. Materials like steel, zinc, terrazzo, and ceramics are used on the terraces and incorporated into the furniture. And, a wall of wood paneling with plenty of shelf space houses library facilities and open seating areas that welcome visitors to read, meet, or engage in conversation.

All of these unique elements make the new library a pleasant Third Place with an enhanced social role, where time is spent well. 

PROJECT CREDITS

The design of Library Alphen Centrum of Bibliotheek Rijn en Venen is based on a vision developed by aatvos with the client in a workshop. 

Library Alphen Centrum of Bibliotheek Rijn en Venen is a co-creation of aatvos (design concept, strategy, creative direction) and MARS Interieurarchitecten (design, engineering). 

Architect: Common Affairs
Photos: aatvos