Located in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Amsterdam Public Library (OBA) was designed by Jo Coenen & Co Architekten. In Jo Coenen’s works, the importance of contextualisation is self-evident. His architecture and his architectonic-urban designs not only fit in with their environment, but are also embedded in them – they absorb, reinforce and reflect the characteristics of their surroundings. The situation with respect to the OBA was quite a different one. A totally new urban development, of which the OBA was the first building to be constructed, is now emerging on the spot where the Central Station post office used to be, of which the high-rise building, known by the name of Post CS, is now the only remnant. Consequently, the library could not adapt itself to an existing context, but had to anticipate its future surroundings. Jo Coenen’s solution has been to search for a connection to what the future context might be, to predict which sensations might be evoked by those new surroundings.
The urban development plan for Oosterdokseiland consists of abstract outlines of alignments and alternating building heights that had to be strictly adhered to, with little more to go by than the fact that the location would eventually be defined by a water square at the southern side, and by railway lines at the northern side. Because of the area’s central location in Amsterdam, and as he was convinced that the library would become an important spot within that specific area, Jo Coenen designed the OBA as an urban meeting place, starting at the square in front of the building with the stairs leading up to the main entrance.
Coenen was obliged to precisely follow the prescribed alignments, both along the ground floor and the top floor. In between these two floors the building, with its somewhat curved façades and its slight rotation, recedes as much as possible in order to disengage itself from its surroundings, to allow an optimal view of the area and to offer its visitors and its future neighbours as much natural light as possible. The public nature of the building is not only accentuated by the transparency of the lower layers, but also by the way the building recedes and thus creates a public area under the huge canopy.
The upside-down L of natural stone at the front side of the building is an element that is clearly discernible from afar. It provides a distinctly articulated vertical ending, an aspect to which little value is attached in contemporary architecture. Apart from being an urban landmark for passers-by, the library’s architecture also helps visitors to orientate themselves. The escalators in the heart of the building, which also function as a light object, the large open space next to them, the connections of the different floors provided by the voids and – last but not least – the many different panoramas, all serve to help visitors find their way around the library.