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Herzog & de Meuron unveils latest images of National Library of Israel

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Work has begun on Herzog & de Meuron’s National Library of Israel in Jerusalem 


The 45,000m2 project sits on a sloping site between the Israel Museum to the south and the Knesset to the east.

The scheme, which will be surrounded by a public park, includes exhibition spaces, cafes, an auditorium, bookshop, youth centre and large reading room.

The library’s main book collections will be held in underground stacks and a void made up of offset circles and lined with wooden bookshelves passes through each of the levels connecting the public spaces and administrative areas to the collection below.

Herzog & de Meuron beat Renzo Piano, Frank Gehry and Israeli architects Ammar Curiel, Kimmel Eshkolot and Kolker Kolker Epstein to land the job following a re-run competition in 2013.

The Swiss outfit was appointed shortly after a copyright row saw Israeli architect Rafi Segal ousted from the job - despite being been named preferred architect in an earlier contest (AJ 17.09.12).

The scheme is set to complete in 2020.

National Library of Israel by Herzog & de Meuron

National Library of Israel by Herzog & de Meuron

Architect’s view

Designing a new building in Jerusalem juxtaposes the desire to react to the architectural traditions of this historically significant place with the ambition to make a building that is both appropriate for the contemporary city and specific to the immediate site. These challenges frame our proposal for the National Library of Israel. Jerusalem has two primary urban precincts. The historical center lies to the East while the modern administrative and cultural zone sits among newer development in the West. The dense and highly pedestrianized Old City forms the dominant image of Jerusalem.

Unlike the Old City, buildings in the new development are heterogeneous, freestanding, and primarily linked by vehicular traffic. It is in this area that the site for the National Library of Israel is located. The site is a sloped, triangular plot at the intersection of Ruppin Boulevard and Kaplan Street. Located between the Israel Museum to the South and the Knesset to the East, the National Library site is directly between Jerusalem’s most prominent institutions and is an extension of the park-like landscape that weaves through the area.

While fully independent, the library will be a link between the cultural and civic buildings around it. A native garden with public space and art will surround the Library and connect the interior functions to the surroundings. Visitors, who come for the cultural experience, mingle with local residents, researchers, and staff who use the Library on a daily basis. Exhibition spaces, eating venues, an auditorium, bookstore, and youth center, all surround the reading room. The diversity of functions and the connection to the city ensure that the Library will remain a strong and vibrant institution in the future.

The design responds to the context and reflects the ambitions of the National Library of Israel. It is open and transparent but grounded in the traditions of great libraries and the city itself. As in the past, books will remain at the center. They form a foundation and necessary balance against constant technological change. Books root the building to the ground and are visible to all in a central void.

Vitrine-like elements form the bottom two floors and display the Library’s content and activities to the street. Above, a carved space containing stone binds the project together and reflects the massive quality of Jerusalem’s historical architecture, the scale of the adjacent buildings and the shape of the site. The stone is not just sculptural. The elevated mass provides shade while its mineral construction adds thermal mass to insulate the interior spaces. The form is strong but humble to its surroundings and the environment.

National Library of Israel by Herzog & de Meuron

National Library of Israel by Herzog & de Meuron

Project data

Location Jerusalem, Israel
Type of project library
Client Government of Israel
Architect Herzog & de Meuron
Executive architect Ami Shinar Architects & Planners
Area 45,000m2
Sustainability target LEED Platinum


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