Utrecht University Library

The Utrecht University Library, which was originally established in 1636, is located on the Uithof campus, a newly built area outside of the city center, built in the manner of American college campuses, where various colleges and faculties are situated in the same geographic area. However, unlike American or English college campuses, the Uithof itself is not designed in the manner of groves and meandering paths, but instead is organized along a main central axis, with all building being organized along a a strict grid, all parallel to one another. In 2004 the library moved to its new home. In December 2019, a new tram line opened that connects the city’s train station, to the Uithof. The nearly 40.000 m2 library is composed in a rectangular, inconspicuous looking black box, alongside of which is a similar looking volume, which houses the building’s parking garage–between which is a courtyard garden designed by West 8. 

The volume of the library is composed of concrete and glazing, which, when approached, reveal that they have both been treated in a way that lends the building texture, as opposed to the chic, smoothness of transparent glass. An image captured and created by the Dutch photographer Kim Zwarts was commissioned for the project; the resulting image was then used to create a rasterized image that could be used to print an enamel fritted pattern of black, white, and gray dots, on the identical glass panels that class the façade. The image was, simultaneously, also used to create a relief, from which was cast a mould, which itself was used to create the textured, black concrete panels. This image captured layers of willow branches, lending a soft atmosphere to the library’s exterior, but also the interior, as the print on the glass panes filters the light streaming into the library, creating a soft glow of light around the print of the willow reeds. This fritted glazing protects the library’s heavily rotated books, on open shelves, so their shelf life longevity is substantially increased. 

Upon entry to the library, users are confronted with a café to their left, while to the right is an inviting grand staircase–that ushers them up and into the first floor, which in essence creates a ‘zero-zero’ level, meaning that the ‘ground floor’ is actually the first floor. The building facilitates both the group and independent study of students, with 1.300 seats, 560 student workstations, 300 librarian workstations, and a 130 seat auditorium for use with lectures and other such presentations. Floors of the library are finished in a glossy white polyurethane, whereas all of the other surfaces–with the exception of the, custom designed orange-red furnishings, which denote areas of interaction between visitors and librarians–are painted in a matte black. After walking past the main circulation desk, above which is a glazed meeting room, users are lead to a sculptural staircase, approached by a gentle ramp.

The treads of the staircase are wide and deep, with numerous landings for informal meetings between visitors, and the staircase extends to the top of the library, with its treads and width increasingly shortening and narrowing as it rises. Because of these finishes, when looking down from the library’s highest inhabitable space, white surfaces are predominately seen, while when looking up from below, matte black dominates. These opposing colors subconsciously direct users to their desired area: white surfaces denote circulation, while all black surfaces denote areas of study or contemplation. When totaled, these stacks house more than 4.2 million books. Unexpected for a library is a roof terrace on the uppermost, with floor, with a grove of grape vines from a vineyard in Maastricht in oversized pots–a place for contemplation. The omnipresent color black is critical to creating the interior’s ethereal-like atmosphere, which is essential to the holistic functioning of this distinctively refined university library, of glass and concrete.

Watch a video about the library

De Uithof
Heidelberglaan 3
3584 CS Utrecht
the Netherlands

Educational, Library

36.250 m2

Date of design

Date of completion

WAA for Quinze & Milan

Project team
Wiel Arets, Harold Aspers, Dominic Papa, René Thijssen, Frederik Vaes, Henrik Vuust

Pauline Bremmer, Jacques van Eyck, Harold Hermans, Guido Neijnens, Michael Pedersen, Vincent Piroux, Jan Vanweert, Michiel Vrehen, Richard Welten

Utrecht University

West 8, ABT Adviseurs in Bouwtechniek BV, Huygen Installatieadviseurs BV, Cauberg - Huygen Raadgevende Ingenieurs BV, Adviesbureau Peutz & Associates BV, Wilimas Bouwadviseurs BV, Adapt 3D, Heijmans-IBC Bouw BV, GTI Utiliteit Midden BV, Permasteelisa Central Europe BV