National and University Library II Ljubljana in Ljubljana, Slovenia designed by Dutch architects Pieter Bannenberg, Walter van Dijk, and Kamiel Klaasse’s Amsterdam based architecture office NL Architects for Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Republika Slovenia. NUKII designed as a competition project. Kicked out first round for exceeding height limit. Ljubljana is a truly unique place; in a way it could be straight from Italo Calvino’s Le citta invisibili. It is a fascinating thought that another invisible city is actually underlying it. Ljubljana has formulated an intriguing opportunity by aiming to build the new library on top of the remains of the former Roman town Emona. It seems a rather counter-intuitive superposition. Could that really work?
The location is beautiful: a convenient position in the city and next door to the exquisite existing library by Plecnik. But how to construct a building on top of such valuable remains? The further constraints are demanding as well: an enormous program has to be placed within tight limitations. It seems that eliminating one of the restrictions is the only way out. What if the maximum height is skipped? Would it be possible to be tall and modest at the same time? Starting point of the proposal is the ancient Roman Crossing. A small fragment of the public space of former Emona, framed by the site boundary, has been extruded to accomodate the entire program: Cardo and Decumanus maximus.
What used to be void now becomes mass and vice versa: A Rachel Whiteread-like ‘urban inversion’. Former street becomes building, but a building with the character of public space. The public floors are connected by stairs over the full width. The stairs double as chairs. They form a continuous but differentiated interior space, to meet, relax, read, study, create, communicate, to think. The floors are articulated in the facade, an X-Ray of the internal organization. Since NUKII is cross-shaped, the increased height is compensated by relatively modest width and depth, the building keeps a distance: instead of inserting a bulky mass, a slender tower emerges.
The solid cross produces ‘micro squares’ in its armpits, creating surprisingly precise relationships with the immediate surroundings. The site is excavated according to the given site boundaries. This clean ‘cut’ helps to articulate the Urban Inversion. It also shows the ‘arbitrariness’ of the excavation, and as such gives the expression of extensivity, of an ungoing network under the pavement. The cut as such reveals the relationship between today’s Ljubljana and the town that used to be there much earlier. In order to leave the ruins untouched the building is lifted. An ‘arched’ space comes into being right above the former crossing. The building as such forms an intricate ‘bridge’ with four landings: strangely familiar.
The reflective ceiling highlights the Remains. Elevating the ‘center’ of the building also helps to establish an important sightline, diagonally over the excavations; the vista from Barjanska / Slovenska Cesta towards Plecniks masterpiece will as such not be completely obscured by the new building. This view line will also serve as physical connection: a new pedestrian path through the ruins directly leads to NUK I, Plecniks library. The public functions are placed relatively close to the ground, with direct access to the streets. Splendid stairs lead to the entrance hall, info desk, night reading room and a small shop. The multi purpose hall is located on the next ‘level’. It features four grandstands in all directions. Another public layer is positioned on top of the predominately closed storage floors.
This ‘cornice’ is formed the cafe and restaurant, exhibition spaces, conference rooms and a roof terrace that allows for stunning views over the city. A true attraction for both tourists and locals. Perhaps it is a good idea to block Emoska Cesta for cars, turning it into a pedestrian area. A big square will come into being connecting the two libraries and the summer stage. NUKII project team lead by architects Pieter Bannenberg, Walter van Dijk, Kamiel Klaasse, and the team includes Gen Yamamoto with Arminas Sadzevicius, Milda Naujalyte, and Matthew Davis, Giulia Pastore, Adrien Mans, and also with Yong Cui, Michal Krejcik, Michaela Dlouha, and Zhongnan Lao, Yinglin Cao. NUKII, National and University Library II Ljubljana is designed by NL Architects in 2012 as a competition project.