The Staatsbibliothek (State Library) as Hyperspace
On the Utopian Potential of Hans Scharoun’s Reading Landscape
Even 55 years after its foundation stone was laid, Hans Scharoun’s vision of a library has lost none of its radical modernity. Rather, it seems that only the library architecture of the 21st century can unfold the utopian potential of his design. For the spatial impression of an unlimited, directionless reading landscape intended by Scharoun was perceived as a challenge from the very beginning. Edgar Wisniewski, for example, complained as early as 1978 that the retrofitted shelving systems destroyed the intended open spatial effect, while the architecture critic Julius Posener took this impression even further: “The State Library is not empty, on the contrary, it seems overcrowded: overflowing with bookshelves.”
However, the utopia of a spatial continuum anticipating digital hyperspace was not owed solely to aesthetic principles; according to Edgar Wisniewski, Scharoun saw himself faced with the task of developing “a space in which information and scholarly study, anonymous individuality and the communal, spatial transcendence and security meet in creative relationship.”
To be sure, the networking potential inherent in its reading room could hardly be overlooked – thus, shortly after its completion, the architectural theorist Manfred Speidel described the Staatsbibliothek (State Library) as a space “whose experiential value is based on the formation of areas and of relationships within and without.” However, Scharoun’s library vision was to remain utopian under the conditions of use, as evidenced to this day by the rededication of the east foyer of the reading landscape, which he planned as a peripatetic-communicative ambulatory, to a quiet study area.