Sacrifices for Beauty – Grimm Zentrum

by Bero Persons

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From the outside the Grimm Zentrum, designed by the Swiss architect Max Dudler, looks beautiful in its simplicity and symmetrical appearance. It stands out from the surrounding buildings and maybe it’s my scandinavian feel for minimal design but the Grimm Zentrum has always catched my eye. I remember the first time I stepped inside the library some years ago and my only intention was to see the notorious reading room. I was impressed by the architectural design of the interior and how it felt so appealing to my eyes. I could imagine how nice it would be to be able to study in similar surroundings. Now that I actually spend most of my time in the library and not only experience it through pure aesthetics but also through its practical attributes I must say I feel different. I am to be honest a little bit disappointed.

Based on pure aesthetics I cannot deny that I really find the design appealing. However, during the short time I have spent in this building I have noticed what lies behind the beautiful surface. In order to make it maintain the minimal design and simplicity the architect has been forced to give a lot of space away, which in turn means less space to study. Resulting in it always being extremely crowded. Not only is it crowded but the air seems to stand still throughout the day. Even though there is huge amount of empty space in the great reading hall somehow the air still feels dense and heavy. One of the most important things when studying is fresh air, that keeps you energized and alert. Unfortunately after a long day of studying at the Grimm Zentrum you feel tired and might even leave with a slight headache. I must admit this might be an over exaggeration, but nevertheless you can feel the poor quality of the air after a long day at the library.

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In terms of people flow the library is designed well. Various reading locations are easy to find and it doesn’t take long until you can seamlessly navigate through the halls of the library. When you walk in you have a cafeteria on your left side and the locker rooms on your right. Despite the fact that the locker rooms are made somewhat inconvenient as every time you want to take a break and leave the building you are forced to visit the locker as you are not allowed to take anything inside besides a bottle of water and your necessities in order to study. This of course has nothing to do with the design of the building but rather with the library policies. Furthermore looking back at the main hallway, that you enter when stepping into the building, you notice the doors situated on each side of the building. However, these doors are most of the time closed.

I’ve heard a few reasons for this where one explains it’s due to the prevention of theft. This is quite understandable as most of the students have laptops and other valuables which are easy to steal as anyone can enter for example the right door and just walk through the hallway and exit through the door situated on the other side of the building. The other explanation has to do with keeping the heat inside when it’s cold weather. Coming from Finland I am familiar with this and even many of our buildings are struggling with the same problem and have relied upon similar actions. In other words by limiting the exits to only one it is easier to keep the warm air inside instead of it pouring out every time someone walks in or out of the building. But architects are however aware of the weather in the area their building is located and thus it would make sense to take this into account when designing the building. Despite that I am content with the flow of people within the building there is something I must point out: the placement of toilettes. There are only toilettes down by the locker room and on the first floor. Therefore people who study on upper floors are forced to walk down several floors in order to visit the toilette. This might seem as a trivial issue but when you consider that you spend all day and everyday of the week at the library small things become annoying, and unfortunately this is one of them.

But as I am writing this critique sitting in the main reading hall of the Grimm I can’t deny how beautiful it looks. Even though it is quite evident that sacrifices in terms of practicality have been made in order to achieve the design one has to admit it is nice to the eyes. The huge space brings a certain calmness despite the fact that sound echoes throughout the hall. You feel that you are a part of the building and sometimes when you feel trapped with either producing text or intaking knowledge it is nice to just lay back and pause for a moment and simply watch how people move within the building and how each floor is stacked upon one another. It is a nice feeling that I have not really had in other libraries. Of course because the building is new it hasn’t got the wonderful smell of a library that I so much enjoy but it has other good qualities in terms of design and minimalism.

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