The new National Library of Israel (NLI) broke ground last week, in a cornerstone-laying ceremony led by President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem. The 45,000-square-meter building, which will be completed in 2020, features stunning designs by renowned Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron.
The largest public library in Israel, this monumental complex includes six above-ground floors and four below-ground floors, and will be built next to Israel’s parliament and the Israel Museum. “The beginning of construction on the new building is a major milestone in the National Library’s transformative renewal process, which aims to preserve and open access to the cultural and intellectual treasures of the State of Israel and the Jewish people safeguarded in its collections,” according to NLI.
Founded in 1892, NLI is in the midst of a renewal process designed to address the challenges of the 21st century. “The new building will enable NLI to provide state-of-the-art services to researchers, readers, visitors and online users, making accessible the millions of intellectual and cultural assets it has collected for more than 120 years,” according to NLI.
The partners in the renewal project are the government of Israel, the Rothschild family, and the David and Ruth Gottesman family of New York. “For 2,000 years the writings of the Jewish people were scattered across the world,” Lord Rothschild said in a statement. “Now, these writings from the past as well as books yet to be written and digital materials, together with a wide range of collections, are to have a permanent home.” The NLI is currently located in Givat Ram, a neighborhood of Jerusalem, and will move to its new location in four years.
Designed by Pritzker laureate ‘Herzog & de Meuron’
Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron is famous for the design of London’s Tate Modern, as well as the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games. An international team of some 40 associates and 380 collaborators in six offices – in Basel (main office), Hamburg, London, Madrid, New York City, and Hong Kong – the firm is presently at work on projects across Europe, the Americas and Asia.
While many of their projects are highly recognized public facilities, such as their stadiums and museums, they have also completed several distinguished private projects, including apartment buildings, offices, and factories. The practice has been awarded numerous prizes, including the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize.
Herzog & de Meuron’s design of the new NLI complex – for which Israelis Amir Mann and Ami Shinar served as executive architects – reflects the transition from a library to a digital information hub. “The shift from print to digital necessitates a rethinking of the library both as an institution and a building typology,” Herzog & de Meuron said in a statement. “To sustain their relevance in the information age, contemporary libraries must function for existing users by providing the operation and spatial quality of traditional library buildings, while generating alternative spaces and uses to attract new audiences.”
Renderings: Herzog & de Meuron