The park is accessible from all sides, with paths leading to the center. This is also the center of the library, defined by an active circular square – the heart of The Living Library. The square comprises four building volumes, each with their separate entrance from the park. Like a village square, this is where people come together. The ground level of each volume is programmed for exhibitions, lectures and a public café towards the park. The center of the square becomes an arena for small and large events. With galleries on all four levels of the library facing the square, it also has the potential of being a large theater. An open amphitheater–style staircase between the ground and first levels creates a more intimate setting for smaller groups within the large space.
The main circulation is made up of two helical stairs around the central square, offering views of the space as one circulates through the building. The program transitions from active to contemplative, with spaces for focused work at the edges and towards the top of the building. At the roof level, each volume features gardens as an extension of the library program.
The square is covered by a timber canopy with a series of skylights that bring natural light into the central space, recreating the lighting conditions under the trees in the park.
The new library will be a global icon for sustainable development. The use of composite timber in the superstructure and roof is paired with a low-carbon reinforced concrete for the subterranean level, ground level and cores for stability and safety. The building’s form and placement maximize passive sustainable strategies to reduce operational energy and support opportunities for on-site energy generation. The placement of the four volumes allows natural ventilation to flow throughout the site and into the central atrium with operable panels on the façade, while the timber canopy is clad with integrated photo-voltaic panels to generate energy. The result of these passive and active strategies is low-operational energy and the potential to achieve net-zero embodied carbon.
The use of timber continues from the canopy to the interior, giving the library a warm and welcoming appeal, augmented by the connection to nature with views and direct contact to the surrounding park for a true biophilic experience. For the external cladding, we proposed two alternative avenues for a low carbon footprint. The first is charred timber. In addition to its low carbon footprint, this technique of treating timber provides excellent weather protection and fire resistance. Using this material could be a pilot project in South Korea as the material does not yet comply with national fire regulations. Our second choice is a circular design option using upcycled materials from decommissioned buildings such as slate.
The Living Library is built in harmony with nature and as an educational tool for both environmental and social sustainability. Like the village square, it is an open, inviting, and democratic meeting place for sharing thoughts, ideas and knowledge.