How do you design a library that caters to the needs and desires of its youngest visitors? By offering a ton of opportunities for expression and learning, and topping it all off with an appealing mix of both familiar and unexpected design elements. In Gütersloh, Germany, the new children’s department of the City Library has achieved this extraordinary blend. The newly opened Liz-Mohn-Children’s Library continues a long-standing tradition and is only one piece of a larger picture.
The City Library is located in the historical heart of the North Rhine-Westphalian city of Gütersloh. Opening its doors in 1984 as a gift from Gütersloh entrepreneur and founder of Bertelsmann Stiftung, Reinhard Mohn, the Gütersloh City Library once represented a milestone in the library world. Mohn is the late founder of the Bertelsmann Stiftung and was determined the library should not be just another “magnificent building”, but above all functional and user-friendly. This concept was revolutionary at the time, groundbreaking in many respects. Thus, upon first opening its doors, the Gütersloh City Library attracted great national and international attention and has since been cited as one of the first examples of modern library architecture in Europe.
Forward-looking and up-to-date in terms of media, the focus of the Gütersloh City Library is on its social function: a café in its center invites Gütersloh residents not only to borrow books and much more, but also to linger and engage in conversation, similar to a marketplace. The interior of the library is now getting on in years and requires fundamental modernization. This extensive renewal will catapult the great Gütersloh City Library into its next life cycle of many.
We zoomed in on the Children’s Library with the entire City Library in the back of our minds at any given moment. Only such a holistic approach could lead us to sustainable results.
But as with any great journey, it all begins with a first step: A generous donation was made by Bertelsmann SE to mark the birthday of Liz Mohn, Bertelsmann owner and wife of the late founder. The aim was to kick off this re-positioning process by first redesigning the Children’s Library of Gütersloh City Library in the basement. The aim was to do this in a way that caters to the 21st century needs and wishes of its patrons – the first piece of a larger mosaic.Library visits as an experience
During extensive Design Workshops, the aatvos team, along with the library team, focused on how to make a library visit a truly special and memorable experience. “When conceptualizing the new design of the Children’s Library, we carefully considered the potential of also applying its core principles to the rest of the building”, remembers Aat Vos, Creative Director at aatvos.
While developing a new positioning, identity and interior, the aatvos team introduced the theory of multiple intelligences by US educationalist Howard Gardner as the central idea to reload Gütersloh City Library. Gardner’s pedagogical approach advises offering a variety of forms of expression and learning to foster different abilities and interests. Our Creative Director Aat Vos explains, “We zoomed in on the Children’s Library with the entire City Library in the back of our minds at any given moment. Only such a holistic approach could lead us to sustainable results.”
Continuing on this path, the Gütersloh library team also embarked on a Design Thinking journey to dive deeper into understanding their users, which was led by trainer and library consultant Julia Bergmann. How could the Children’s Library cater to the joys of moving, playing, and learning for children aged zero to twelve… and make everyone want to see more?
Play between the familiar and the unexpected
Like a beehive, the new Children’s Library is to be characterized by constant buzz and movement. It is a docking station for learning and experiencing new things: There is always something going on here, new ideas to discover, new friendships to make.
A walk through the Children’s Library is designed like a discovery journey through wonderland. It is inspired by the structure of a classical drama. In this pyramidal structure, which goes back to the German writer and literary scholar Gustav Freytag, the rising action is followed by the story’s climax and the falling action. These principles served to ensure the young visitors are not overwhelmed. “In this way, we created a pleasant balance between familiar and unexpected elements and provide just the right amount of stimulation for the guests of the Children’s Library,” explains Hélène IJsselstijn, Interior Designer at aatvos.
Once upon a bookshelf…
In the basement all bookshelves are placed along the walls. Although they convey familiar impressions in the form of books, magazines, and other media, they also provide the first clues as to where the journey may lead: With wooden legs and extensions at the top in creative shapes and colors, the bookshelves look like a mysterious fairytale forest. Another special feature is that they are set at some distance from the wall, providing children places to hide.
The deeper you venture inside the Children’s Library, the more there is to discover: colorful cocoons to cuddle up in, bird’s nests made out of wicker, and an event space with an amphitheater. There is also a lounging pool set into the ground, water-free of course, filled instead with comfy cushions and plenty of padding. This snuggly setting encourages reading and dreaming. Finally, playful colors and a gradient paint job add seemingly endless depth and spaciousness.
Connecting with traditions
With its open connection between the inside and outside, the new interior design invites the young citizens of Gütersloh to discover the freshly enchanted Liz-Mohn-Children’s Library from afar. The basement is similarly openly connected to the first floor. Here, you find a gallery where you get the feeling of being high up in the trees. Furthermore, there is an area for students to play board games and do homework.
With the Liz-Mohn-Children’s Library, we are continuing a tradition that has existed since its founding and reviving the spirit of this particular City Library.
All in all, the new Children’s Library is not only ready for its next life cycle but also functions as a flagship that is connected to the special tradition of the Gütersloh City Library and creates an appetite for more. “During the workshops with the aatvos team, we came to understand the true potential of our library as a place for and with people,” recalls Silke Niermann, head of the Gütersloh City Library. “With the Liz-Mohn-Children’s Library, we are continuing a tradition that has existed since its founding and reviving the spirit of this particular City Library.”
The interior architecture of the children’s library of the Gütersloh City Library is based upon a vision that aatvos developed together with the client as well as trainer and library consultant Julia Bergmann over the course of a Design Workshop.
Strategy, Design, Art-Direction: aatvos (team: Aat Vos, Hélène IJsselstijn, Eunice Ma)
General contractor: Team Stonepark
Design thinking: Julia Bergmann Training & Consulting
Photography: Marco Heyda/aatvos