Model Programme for Public Libraries

Kultur styrrelsen



Case: The Rentemestervej Library in Copenhagen NorthWest


Today, the expressive building with its golden stack of offset books stands as an icon in the neighbourhood, and the many functions and activities attract citizens across age groups and ethnic backgrounds. The Library is an innovation in the Danish library landscape, both because of its expressive architecture and because of its multi-functional approach in an urban border area. It is also a good example of the library's role in urban renewal and urban development.

The new library from 2012 is a part of the City of Copenhagen's plan ‘A Little Further NorthWest’, and it is to contribute to creating cohesion and identity in the rundown and somewhat characterless neighbourhood. The NorthWest district is characterised by a multi-cultural population composition and by small rented flats and flats under shared ownership schemes. A typical villa housing estate is found nearby. The Youth Centre at Dortheavej, which adjoins the library, adds a sub-cultural metropolitan character with its graffiti decoration and high pulse. The Library is thus located in a border zone between different lifestyles.

Library and culture centre under one roof

The Library, which is both a library and a culture centre is the most recent Danish example of a so-called ‘hybrid culture arena’, which combines many functions. When the Library was constructed, it was connected to a culture centre that had been on the same plot of land for quite a few years, but instead of adding a library section to the culture house, it was decided to let the Library be the new, central brand for the building. This was a very deliberate choice, as ‘library’ is an international, recognisable and respected concept, while ‘culture centre’ is not. The strategy seems to have worked. Ever since the doors to the new building were first opened, the library has had 1,000 visitors per day.

‘HuskMitNavn’ strikes an informal note

Both outside and inside, the building has been decorated by the artist ‘HuskMitNavn’ (RememberMyName), a now recognised graffiti artist. The decoration strikes a humorous and informal note, which is particularly aimed at inviting young people in the district inside. Inside the building, the following functions can be found: Library; Kvik (Quick) Citizen Service; Café Glad (Cafe Happy), Bispebjerg Local Committee; Workshops; Local TV / Local Radio; Citizen Centre and Culture Hall.

Photo: Signal Architects

Four sections like books in a stack

The Library has two entrances. One from the north, and one from the south, so that the lounge and the gap between the two buildings form an urban ‘shortcut’ in the neighbourhood. Here, visitors come across a lounge, where Café Glad serves healthy food in collaboration with chef Søren Gericke. This is a part of Glad Mad (Happy Food), an organisation that works for people with disabilities to be included in society. The cafe is also a journal and newspaper cafe.

Walking up the stairs, both open and closed functions are found, distributed across ‘the books’ and the gaps, which are more transparent and open spaces with glass walls. The two cultural institutions are integrated by means of footbridges and offsets in the interior design. The culture hall has been placed at the top, a position that encourages visitors to move through the building. At the very top, you can enjoy the view across the mixed, ‘robust’ NorthWest district from an open terrace.

The new building is organised based on four clearly defined programmes, which each makes up a ‘book’ in the stack: Children's library; Youth library; Adult library and Culture hall. Each of these areas has its own distinctive interior design and furniture. The horizontal division has been used systematically to create diversity in expression and function.

The young children's library Grotten (the Grotto) has a certain cave character and supports children's interest in playing and climbing. The space is furnished with cubes measuring 70 x 70 x 70 cm, which can be used both for sitting on and for presentation of materials. The green, yellow and white cubes can easily be moved so that the space can continually be changed by users and staff. The Grotto is located on the ground level, immediately opposite the cafe. This enables parents of slightly older toddlers to keep watch on their children's activities while enjoying a cup of coffee. It is illustrative for the noise-reducing material chosen that guests at the cafe do not experience any noise from the children in the Grotto.

The Grotto at Rentemestervej Library. A space for the little ones. Photo: The Rentemestervej Library

The youth space is a flexible, open space with bookcases along the walls and easily movable furniture. A many-armed spaceship-like light installation can illuminate the space in many ways. The space invites people to be creative, act and make decisions. The long table has a central place in the space. It can be used both for soloist work, where the different users sit with each their own exercises, and for meetings etc.

The long table is a popular gathering point in the youth space. Photo: City of Copenhagen, Culture and Leisure Department

The adult library paraphrases the classical book library. It is dominated by light wood with bookcases from floor to ceiling. The library has been laid out with niches with comfortable, classical furniture, e.g. winged armchairs covered in black leather. The adult library encourages pensiveness, peace and quiet, reflection. And by the edges of this space, many places have been set up as reading corners or PC stations, many by windows that offer views across the NorthWest neighbourhood.

The adult library features classical furniture, books on the shelves and many vantage points. Photo: Signal Architects

The culture hall has also been designed as a flexible space that can be used for citizen debates and culture events such as concerts, writers' evenings, children's theatre etc. The hall is equipped with modern sound and light equipment. For small events, it can be divided by means of a partition screen. Furniture, tables and technical equipment can be wheeled to and from storage rooms that adjoin the hall.

The Odin Theatre fills the Culture Stage with their latest performance, ‘The Chronic Life’. Photo: Rina Skeel

From car park to culture-producing urban space

As a part of the City of Copenhagen's plan ‘A Little Further NorthWest’, the Library is to contribute to creating cohesion and identity in the city neighbourhood. And currently, a consortium with Schønherr as its main consultant is working at full throttle to complete the planning for the establishment of a new culture-producing urban space immediately outside the library in what used to be a car park.

The open square will be able to offer a wide selection of activities and recreational options for the many future users, with room for e.g. play, dance, theatre and an outdoor cafe. The area is thus planned with large areas in connection to the programmed functions such as cafe and outdoor service. These areas are located in connection with the Community Centre's Cafe and the health centre, at which there are plans to establish a health cafe. At the centre of the square, four large pixels of 10 x 10 metres each have been laid out as the square's functional ‘heart’.

18. Sep 2017 at. 13:55


The culture hall is an active tool in relation to creating offers and experiences for the area's children and young people. Here, Freestyle Phanatix perform their show Cre8tivity as a part of the Summer For Children event.


You can see more about the show and the culture hall as a setting here.


See YouTube video from Urban Shrovetide Festival 2012

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