BIG’s National Library in Astana

With the constantly developing technological world we live in, the design process of all related fields has changed significantly. We know more about how our structures will perform with respect to energy consumption, and because of that we are able to make informed design decisions to maximize efficiency while still producing beautifully orchestrated spaces.

Danish firm BIG, run by Bjarke Ingles is famous for their ambitious and creative designs. While I personally do not like all of BIG’s projects, I do have a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for the depth, clarity, and systematic approach to the design process that they follow. In previous posts I had talked about the importance of using diagrams to help achieve a design, as well as explain the design to others.

BIG was recently awarded first place in a design competition for a national library in Astana, Kazakhstan. The design takes into account many factors, but is driven primarily by two geometries, the perfect circle, and the public spiral. In the diagrams below, you can see the design strategy they used in order to separate elements of the program. The circle (yellow, signifies the actual book stack) represents the circle of knowledge, a continuous loop housing the books.The public spiral, (blue) are a series of public spaces that interlock with the perfect circle. This strategy is a very clear way to differentiate between public, and “private” as well as programmatic differentiation. To a non architect, you can see how different elements of the building’s requirements provoke a different design response.


Another fascinating element of the design is the skin of the building. The wrapped skin appears to unite the two distinctly different programmatic geometries (perfect circle, and public spiral) into one fluid object. BIG ANL_Elevations

The actual paneling of the skin is informed by energy studies conducted in order to find ways to maximize energy efficiency. The below diagram shows how the panel sizes vary, depending on which areas of the building are exposed to the most sunlight, compensating where there is too much, and allowing more light in where there is too little. This is a great example of how technology and the scientific studies we can now perform allow us to create more efficient buildings. 1251243951-anl-ecotect.jpg

Projects like this, accompanied by great diagrams, allow us to understand projects better. They allow us to understand why the architect made the decisions he/she made. For example, the simplest way to have made a library would have been to create a box like structure, with  grand entrance etc. The architect’s vision here, however, is that knowledge is a continuous loop, and thus the architecture of such a building should be informed by its purpose.

I would like to thank Tota Hunter for her suggestion that I write about this project, and would love to invite all my readers to send me projects they find interesting to hear my thoughts on them.

Images courtesy of ArchDaily

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Tota Hunter says:

    Do you think BIG considered the context at all in their decision making during the design process? I understand they considered the purpose of the building and in turn put the continuous loop but not entirely sure about taking from its surroundings. If not, do you think they should have orbis context not necessarily an important factor in designing monumental buildings?


    1. Tota,

      Thanks for your comment! I think you raise an extremely interesting point, especially given the heavy emphasis we placed in our studies on contextual relevance in design the last semester. The last part of your comment where you question the need for relevance in such a project that as you said is “monumental” interests me. It is almost counter intuitive to think of architecture in a way that tries purposefully to disassociate itself from the context. Considering that the building itself is supposed to activate peoples interest in public shared spaces and the library in particular, I think that, in this case, by not associating it with its context it actually draws more attention to it… What do you think?


  2. Mohamed Elwakil says:

    Glad Zain that you explained the concept behind the design .
    Whether the public will understand and realize that concept remains to be be seen when the library is put to use.
    Were there any renderings of the interior space and how the design concept was perceived from the inside.
    No doubt in my opinion that the organic shape of the structure can been driven by geomattirc shapes /volumes , the infinite and spiraling nature of learning and the outcome of the energy efficiency studies informing the exterior envelooe/skin design .
    All of this must finally represent the political and cultural statement of a a national project.
    There are two statements being made here, one of the Khasak political leadership and one of the designer. A meeting of the minds must be reached and often times compromises are made.
    In such cases experience of the end users, context of the surroundings-
    which were not addressed by your post or maybe ArchDaily’s – the functional success of the concept, one of learning, is everyone’s imagination.


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