Korean Architect Builds Prominent Library in Germany

A new library in Germany has the Korean word for library engraved prominently on one of its outer walls. The Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart in the heart of the tech city is a cuboid structure with each side measuring 45 m and having 80 door-shaped holes. The four sides represent the points of the compass, and on top of each side, a word meaning library from the language of each cultural sphere of the world has been engraved. Hangeul represents Asia, while German, English and Arabic represent their respective cultural regions.

The designer is Korean architect Yi Eun-young (56). His design was chosen in 1999 in an open competition for the library that would symbolize the new urban planning vision of Stuttgart. The city spent 79 million euros (about W117 billion) over a 12-year period to build the library.

Yi recently told the Chosun Ilbo by phone, "I wanted to spread the pride of Koreans and convinced the mayor and head of the library to choose Hangeul instead of Chinese or Japanese." Yi studied architecture at RWTH Aachen and established his own firm Yi Architects in Cologne in 1994. He returned to Korea in 2000 and taught at Hanyang University but went back to Germany in 2010.

While the Hangeul featured on one of the outer walls may grab the attention of Koreans, it is the architectural accomplishments embodied in the structure that are drawing praise from Europeans. The design has been hailed as a masterpiece of minimalism. The box-shaped building is completely white inside and out, which is rare among libraries. "I insisted on all white, since the building is the stage and not the main character," Yi said. The only colors in the building come from books and the people. "They are the main characters," he added.

Yi said he wanted to avoid as many ornaments as possible. "I pursued the creation of a building shaped like a plaster model," he said.

The interior of the building is divided into two spaces. The first is called "Das Herz," or the heart, which Yi says he put the most work into designing the space. From the first floor to the fourth, the center of the library is a completely open arena. It is a place where people can escape from their daily routines and contemplate the true meaning of life. The space is a modern interpretation of the Roman Pantheon.

On top of the open arena, from floors five to nine, sits the library in the shape of an inverse pyramid. It rises up like the steps of a pyramid. "I came up with that design to express the request of Stuttgart city officials that a library is not just a place to read, but a place to pursue knowledge and a place for people to gather," Yi said. This led to the idea of making the entire library appear as a city within itself.

The Korean architectural community is pleased that a Korean has built such a prominent structure in Germany, which has played a central role in the field of architecture, including the Bauhaus movement. "I think I was able to complete this project because Germany has a flourishing architectural culture that allowed me to turn my creative ideas into reality," Yi said.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 06, 2012 07:26 KST