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© Santiago Calatrava
© Monika Nikolic
© Santiago Calatrava
© Monika Nikolic
For decades, the growing needs of Zurich University were met by structures erected on the outskirts of the city. In recent times, however, attempts have been made to increase the density of the existing facilities in the historical university district in the city centre. The faculty of law, hitherto scattered over eight different locations, was to be united and the library extended. The original L-shaped library building dates from 1908 and was designed as a laboratory. Twenty years later, this was complemented with a further, lower, angular tract, to create a central courtyard. This extension has been raised in height by the addition of a structure in steel and glass that accommodates the administration, book stores  and reading rooms. The faculty spaces are housed in the old buildings. Structurally discrete, yet at the heart of the development, is the main section of the new library. Supported on steel columns in what was formerly the internal courtyard, the new development impinges on the old structure at only four points. Six elliptical rings, increasing in size towards the top, are stacked above each other to form a gigantic atrium crowned by a roof light, so that daylight is able to penetrate to ground floor level. In summer, hydraulically operated louvres provide shading for the internal space. The reading places are oriented to the central atrium and are laid out along the wooden balustrade walls, from where there are views to the gallery levels opposite. The study area is closed off to the rear by bookshelves, behind which is a further light well that brings daylight into the old part of the building. Spanning between the existing structure and the gallery is an open-shelf area.