Model Programme for Public Libraries

Kultur styrrelsen



Sønderborg Library Workshop

The local design workshops

The Model Programme for Public Libraries has carried out a mapping of Danish municipalities' new design and new construction of libraries. The mapping showed that almost two out of three of the municipalities asked are currently planning to carry out considerable changes. We also tested the municipalities' interest in participating in a tailor-made design workshop course. We did this because we thought that there would be clear mutual advantages to be gained from a dialogue about how local libraries can develop spaces and layout solutions that match new needs. It turned out that the interest in participating was great – 40 municipalities with a total of 47 library projects wanted to participate in the competition for three design workshop courses facilitated by Signal Architects, who are consultants on the Model Programme for Public Libraries. The three winners were selected after thorough deliberations and dialogues with a number of municipalities. Particular consideration was given to projects that were at a relatively early stage of their ideas development.

One of the three winners is Sønderborg Municipality, which is to build an entirely new library. With a municipal construction budget of DKK 94.6 million, a multi-purpose culture centre is to be built by the harbour. Sønderborg Harbour Association is to construct the building. You can read the entire report here. 

A new Multi-purpose Culture Centre by the harbour

Sønderborg Multi-purpose Culture Centre is a key player in the new master plan for Sønderborg's waterfront. The master plan is to develop an old industrial area into a dynamic cultural nerve centre – both for the city and for the region. As the plan stands right now, the Multi-purpose Culture Centre is to take over the old Ewer's Warehouse, and newbuild is to be added – a connecting link and an extension. However, this location has yet to be approved. The ambition with the Multi-purpose Culture Centre is to move a number of the city's cultural organisations and institutions to the same place, so that together they can create new activity and development within the vision framework of ‘Learning, Arts and Culture’.

The following players are expected to move in:

  • Sønderborg Library
  • The German Library
  • The Arts School
  • Centre for Culture
  • and finally, a further 200 m2 are still available.

The Multi-purpose Culture Centre's players

The Multi-purpose Culture Centre's future users

Sønderborg Multi-purpose Culture Centre has families with children and young people as its primary target group. It is considered crucial to create a natural affiliation for the entire family from the beginning, and that the Multi-purpose Culture Centre should be able to offer relevant activities for all family members in attractive settings. Furthermore, the ambition is of course that the different cultural institutions' current users will follow along when they move into the new Multi-purpose Culture Centre. For instance, the library's users, including a large and faithful group of adults and particularly senior users.

  • The newly established Arts Hall, which will be the Multi-purpose Culture Centre's closest neighbour at the new waterfront, will primarily form the background for presentation of digital art, where the visitors are primarily culture consumers. The Multi-purpose Culture Centre can establish an exciting, complementary interplay with the Arts Hall by offering attractive settings for the users' own active culture production.
  • The waterfront will be the closest neighbour and a transition zone to the Multi-purpose Culture Centre. There is clearly a great potential in creating activities and experiences in the outdoor area, while at the same time ‘a red carpet is rolled out’ with an invitation to come inside the Multi-purpose Culture Centre.
  • • The city's business community, start-ups and fireballs can be invited inside the Multi-purpose Culture Centre with offers such as free PC-supported workstations in ‘urban offices’, meeting rooms and workshop facilities. If value is to be created for the Multi-purpose Culture Centre and its other users, part of the deal could be that visiting companies and start-ups would commit themselves to opening up the engine room, so to speak, and tell an attending audience about their practice.

The Multi-purpose Culture Centre's future users

The performative space

‘The performative space’ is based on creatively innovative activities carried out by the users. It aims at active creation, but the performative space can also be a creative and aesthetic learning space. It facilitates workshops of different kinds: writers' workshops, activities with in-house artists, innovation workshops, film workshops etc. The performative space typically requires the availability of tools and materials. Large table surfaces will always be useful equipment. Ideally, there should be room for people to be untidy and make a mess, and the space should provide safe storage facilities for the participants' work in progress. All things being equal, these are requirements that are not met best in an open area with a lot of activity. On the other hand, it might make good sense to move the activity out to the library's wider audience in order to attract new customers.

The figure below presents a summary of ideas developed by the table group who focused on the performative space during the workshop's exercise 2. If you would like to see the figure in a larger format, press the magnifying glass in the corner at the bottom right.

The meeting space

‘The meeting space’  is based on participation. Its offers range from participation in events about (local) political questions or current issues, over reading and study circles to facilitation of communities and networks. ‘The meeting space’ creates a setting for the passive community, e.g. guests reading in a cafe, over ad hoc-style meetings to recurrent, programmed meetings for external users, e.g. the local senior citizens' council. An increasing number of libraries have their own cafe and cultivate the architect Jan Gehl's point about the attraction of the ‘passive communities’ – where users prefer to be close to a high street and activity, even if as a starting point they bring along work that requires peace and quiet for concentration. However, a large number of libraries also choose to move workstations into peripheral zones, and in such cases it might be worth taking a critical view of which meeting spaces are used most.

The figure below presents a summary of ideas developed by the table group who focused on the meeting space during the workshop's exercise 2. If you would like to see the figure in a larger format, press the magnifying glass in the corner at the bottom right.

The inspiration space

‘The inspiration space’ is based on experiences. It will typically offer access to materials including literature, art, films, music, entertainment and games as well as events with artists and similar. At a time where ever more titles become accessible on different virtual platforms, the library's role is to a lesser degree to ensure that visitors find what they need, and to a higher degree that they also find what they did not know they needed. In this connection, it is a great challenge for libraries to guide the many different users efficiently and unobtrusively to experiences and activities that match their needs.

The figure below presents a summary of ideas developed by the table group who focused on the inspiration space during the workshop's exercise 2. If you would like to see the figure in a larger format, press the magnifying glass in the corner at the bottom right.

The learning space

‘The learning space’ is based on discovering and learning something new. It offers e.g. informal learning courses, e-learning facilities, talks, access to knowledge resources and question & answer services. At many libraries, learning activities are based on IT – they may even include courses in the use of IT. This poses special demands on ‘the learning space’. It is an activity that typically requires retention of attention to a shared task. It also poses demands on equipment, PCs and work tables. It may therefore be an obvious choice to allocate such activities to secluded, semi-closed spatialities. However, the library also needs to live up to an intention of providing a learning space for children, and in this case, it may not be a learning space in the style of an office environment that is needed, but a learning space that can support a more activity-based, playful approach to learning.

The figure below presents a summary of ideas developed by the table group who focused on the learning space during the workshop's exercise 2. If you would like to see the figure in a larger format, press the magnifying glass in the corner at the bottom right.

Make use of the 24-hour rhythm

All libraries and multi-purpose culture centres have patterns in terms of their usage and in relation to time. If a library wants to use its settings and resources optimally, increased attention should be directed at whether it is possible to increase utilisation and the citizens' use of the settings by means of a systematic support of the 24-hour rhythm through décor and activity planning. This is why one of the exercises in connection with the design workshop in Sønderborg focused on the Multi-purpose Culture Centre's 24-hour rhythm and on how to create room for more activities and users and at the same time provide appropriate settings for all of the activities.

If you would like to see the figure in a larger format, press the magnifying glass in the corner at the bottom right.

Design challenges


One very key wish among the design workshop's participants was that the new Multi-purpose Culture Centre should be designed and laid out so flexibly that all users, regardless of age, needs and behaviour, should be able to find suitable settings and professional help during opening hours that would preferably get close to 24/7. The challenge is of course that flexibility and adaptability as such cannot meet the ambition about providing all users with access to everything all the time. The Multi-purpose Culture Centre's spaces and resources are not infinite.

High level of flexibility requires planning: Making sure that spontaneous visitors have access to an abundance of diverse activities and offers at the Multi-purpose Culture Centre requires clarity and maybe guidance. The more updated, clear and precise this guidance is, the more the playing fields for experiences and activities open up to meet spontaneous needs. However, the optimum match of activity and user profile is best achieved by means of targeted communication and working with clearly declared activities and offers. The same applies to the quality of the service.

The Multi-purpose Culture Centre's desire to be able to offer a variety of activities requires planning and booking if several functions are to work well in the same spaces, drawing on the same resources. It requires even more planning, booking and resources if the same spaces are to be adaptable so that they can support the changing users' activities in an optimum way.

How to optimise the experience for the spontaneous user:

  • A culture calendar in the arrival area can contribute to creating overview and guidance.
  • Welcome / reception / info desk with guidance – proactive staff
  • Plan drawing / functional diagram of the library – where do you find what? From analogue to digital
  • Clear markings of zones and thematisation of material collections
  • Clear indication of possibility of making an appointment for one-off sparring with staff – both in the library's physical space and in the digital space (which can take place at a time that suits both parties).

In relation to the objective of achieving great spatial flexibility, the best results are created by thinking less about flexibility and more about activity, behaviour and number of users, and based on this to consider which functional areas or zones the Multi-purpose Culture Centre should be able to offer in order for many different types of activities to take place within spatial settings that support the given activities in the best way possible and not just in a random, available corner.

A number of more ad hoc-based activities can obviously take place in ‘the common square’ – the Multi-purpose Culture Centre's large, communally owned inspiration space – an area that is characterised by plenty of space and the possibility of working with different situation-specific layout solutions.

For instance, a stage can be set up with seats for an audience, or space can be created for a thematic exhibition. By comparison, better settings can clearly be created for creative activities, IT classes and similar if the Multi-purpose Culture Centre can also offer specialised and audibly delimited spaces where the activity is supported by tools and materials and is not disturbed by other users and does not disturb either.

Different zones that can support activities and needs.


The Multi-purpose Culture Centre is to be the setting for Sønderborg Library, The German Library, the Arts School, Centre for Culture and an as yet unknown player to be able to interact to provide a wide range of high quality offers with a shared focus on ‘learning, arts and culture’ aimed at Sønderborg's citizens.
But – what should the building's players own jointly? What is to take place in the communal facilities? How is the Multi-purpose Culture Centre to work together to design, change, update and provide service in the communal building? At the operational level, it is essential to consider whether to have a rota of people on duty, or whether there may be advantages in keeping a permanent staff in the jointly owned parts of the building with primary responsibility for servicing users and the operational coordination of new measures in the communal facilities.
One idea that could strengthen the link between the strategic desire to create interdisciplinary synergy in the interaction between the Multi-purpose Culture Centre's players and the operational execution of the ambition could be to work with an ‘annual cycle’ that contains a number of large joint initiatives, which are thematically broad enough for each of the institutions in the building to contribute with competences in connection with preparation and execution.

‘Annual cycle’


The Multi-purpose Culture Centre is not expected to be ready until 2017. Whether it will end up being located in a dramatically updated version of the old warehouse by the harbour is still uncertain, just as one additional player has yet to be found who would move into the partnership of cultural institutions in the new building. However, we already know that the Multi-purpose Culture Centre will not be the only cultural institution in Sønderborg and in the South Jutland hinterland – far from it.

It would therefore be a really good idea to map where the co-locating cultural institutions are currently delivering added cultural value or have established a unique cultural platform with dedicated, faithful users; but naturally, it is also important to look ahead:

- Partly to consider how the institutions together can find a unique platform in the South Jutland cultural landscape.

- Partly, and maybe even more importantly in a general welfare-economic view, how the Multi-purpose Culture Centre can contribute to democratising the access to cultural experiences in the city and in South Jutland – so as to avoid staking on resourceful and active culture consumers only.

What constitutes the Multi-purpose Culture Centre's unique platform?



The final exercise at the workshop was a short brainstorming session where the participants were to develop proposals as to how to make a joint kick-off event for the new Multi-purpose Culture Centre that can release the ambition of interdisciplinary synergies, have local relevance and attract a large audience.

Make your own contribution via the Facebook group

If you have comments to this case, please feel free to contribute via the Facebook group.

15. Jun 2016 at. 09:27

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