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A new library at the Kulturforum

An architectural vision between functionality and symbolism

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A new library at the Kulturforum

An architectural vision between functionality and symbolism

The history of the Staatsbibliothek (State Library) goes back to 1661. The Great Elector’s private library in the Apothecary Wing of Berlin’s City Palace is opened to a select public as the ‘Churfürstliche Bibliothek zu Cölln an der Spree’ (“Library of the Elector”). Over the coming centuries, names and locations change, but the collection behind them remains and grows steadily.

The history of the house on Potsdamer Strasse begins with the wartime removal of the holdings from the main building located on Unter den Linden starting in 1942. Since the cultural assets remained in the respective occupation zones after the war, the history of the division of Germany is also that of the books and treasures of the Staatsbibliothek (State Library).

In 1957, ten years after the official dissolution of the state of Prussia, the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) was founded. The decision is made to return collections to Berlin, and a new building is planned in Berlin (West) for the book collections. After an initially considered location in Lichterfelde was rejected, the decision was made in 1961 in favor of the current site. In addition to the architectural solution, the architectural competition calls for the library to be integrated into the urban planning of the spacious area, which is to be developed into a new cultural forum. Hans Scharoun emerged as the winner of the competition.

In his design, Scharoun inserts a multi-part building complex into the urban landscape, which, adapting to the morphology of the building site, develops linear, terraced, and vertical structures, combining components with different functional areas into a building landscape. Thus, the exterior of the building mirrors the reading landscape within.


Kulturforum with the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) under construction, St. Matthew’s Church and Philharmonie to the left of Potsdamer Strasse. To the right of Potsdamer Strasse, the construction site for the Staatsbibliothek (State Library). Behind Potsdamer Platz runs the Wall.

© bpk, Rolf Koehler, 1967

“The urban planning concept of this design is masterful. Each individual building of the cultural center at Kemper-Matthäikirchplatz is given the importance it deserves, and yet these groups of buildings – as diverse as they are idiosyncratic in function and design – come together to form a convincing and harmonious ensemble.”

from the verdict of the jury on July 9, 1964, on the occasion of Hans Scharoun’s award of first prize for his contribution to the architectural competition ‘New Construction of the State Library’


Aerial view of the Kulturforum with the shell of the Staatsbibliothek (State Library), March 1973

© bpk / Reinhard Friedrich