National Library in Astana, Kazakhstan / BIG


BIG was recently awarded with the first prize on an open international design competition for  ’s new National Library in Astana.

The new building has an area of  33.000 sqm, arranged as a continuous circulation on a Möbius Strip, as the result of 2 interlocking structures: the perfect circle and the public spiral. The sections (see below) clearly show how the horizontal program shifts to a vertical configuration,  combining vertical hierarchy, horizontal connectivity and diagonal view lines. The skin, which changes from wall to roof as the strip develops. It sounds a bit complicated, but the sections and diagrams explain this pretty well, and you can get the idea on how the spaces and diagonal views relate on the renderings. In short words, a clear lineal organization (ideal for an archive, library) is mixed with an infinite loop.

“What is a library but an efficient archive of books… and a path for the public to reach them” (Thomas Christoffersen, Project Leader)

This shape also looks forward to become a symbol for the nation: “the circle, the rotunda, the arch and the yurt are merged into the form of a Moebius strip. The clarity of the circle, the courtyard of the rotunda, the gateway of the arch and the soft silhouette of the yurt are combined to create a new national monument appearing local and universal, contemporary and timeless, unique and archetypal at the same time” (Bjarke Ingels).

But once again, diagram´s are way better to explain this than my words. See the diagrams, sections and renderings after the break:

Structure / Envelope
Structure / Envelope
Ecotect analysis
Ecotect analysis
6th floor plan
6th floor plan
North-south section
North-south section
East-west section
East-west section
Night view


Architect: BIG
Client: Kazakhstan Presidential Office
Collaborators: ARUP AGU
Size: 33.000 M2
Location: Astana, Kazakhstan
Partner-in-Charge: Bjarke Ingels
Project Leader: Thomas Christoffersen
Team: Amy Campbell, Jakob Henke, Johan Cool, Jonas Barre, Daniel Sundlin

Cite: Basulto, David. "National Library in Astana, Kazakhstan / BIG" 25 Aug 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 16 Sep 2014. <>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    feels like if he actually pulls this one off, it’ll be another step that pushes him into starchitect territory (following the mountain dwellings). i hope the interior experiences match the ones of the exterior.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    wow…the diagram is so great. But I think this concept looks like something made by Zaha Hadid.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +1

      do you mean the Civil Court of Justice in Madrid? not sure about being similar, one thing I like about this BIG project is the entrance, there is a manipulation of landscape and I believe guiding myself from the model and section you sort of emerge on the center, both have different contexts…which one works better? could be a question.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down +3

    I like and respect Bjarke Ingels work. The way he explains his projects is a plus, is not like he is the only who does it because other architects do it too, but he does it a fun way (you don’t have to agree). When I look at this project and after I see the diagrams I say okay, even if it reminds me to the shanghai pavilion he did, still good. But then I look at the North-south section and I felt weird…maybe I missed something there.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +1

      The north south section is bad. I’ve never seen so much wasted space. Am I missing something?

      • Thumb up Thumb down -1

        absolutely not a waste of space, compare yourself standing on one of those open platforms to standing on one of the floors of the east-west section,on the north-south section is where you would really experience and appreciate the design of structure.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      Then what do you consider architecture? some examples please. what do you think is the difference between design and architecture? Are they not one in the same (at least in this case).

  4. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Remember those good old days when big copied OMA? Now they moved on to copy UNStudio, I’m getting old…

  5. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    @Heli: yes, that’s exactly what i’m thinking about. Well, if these two projects are not similar, so why you do you think about Civil Court in Madrid when i said this project looks like something made by Zaha?
    Anyway, i like this more than Zaha’s, may be it’s because of the diagram, it’s too convincing!

  6. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    its nice, i like it…but once again…I dont know if bjarke ingels wants to be more mature or what, but Im missing something innovative here. couple a years ago, with every new project, there was also some kind of statment “how can we do it differently?” and there were tons of small ideas added to the project to make it more fun for the inhabitants / visitors and, what i think, make the building actually work.

    here / its a library, but nothing else, people would come here to read books, but nothing else would make them spend some more time here and explore the building.

    in one sentence: its nice, but it is boaring.

    And that’s the worse you can say about BIG, cause, that’s theyr trademark. Not necesserily nice, but always FUN

  7. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Architecture wise: AMAZING!
    Interior Design wise: Very poor… Interiors are not part of the last minute details… Interior design is a whole challenge/project by itself.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      How can you separate “architecture” from its interior? – Isn’t architecture always the whole thing – inside and outside?

      • Thumb up Thumb down +1

        no, architecture is the design of a space, the exterior is stunning, but the interior is well below the standards of a building of this calabur

  8. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    The section is horrible. It reveals the uselessness of these weird, narcissistic shapes. It looks pretty from the outside though, and the diagrams are mildly entertaining.

  9. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    Nice form, but more for a pavillion (Shanghai, anyone?) than for a real building. Quite typical is that you don’t see any books one any of the drawings, except in the far background – I thought it was a library, not a business center…

  10. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I agree with Al Gaddor, very nice design but not especially architecture.
    I don’t see that much a game with landscape, more a landscape creation, and nothing in the documents here about the interaction with surroundings or urban intentions, plus the floor plans look quite simplistic.
    Ok, beautiful shape, renderings… i love it i won’t say, but i would be missing something if i wasn’t taking a closer look the the building functionality and meaning…

  11. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    太喜欢BIG 了,年轻而直接

  12. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    very lazy… just take any mathematical geometry and force a section within it’s skin, add some unconvincing diagrams to pretend it works and instant visual diarrhoea…

  13. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I do I have the impression they did this somewhere else…I dont know the Danish Pavillion for the Shanghai Expo….I just wonder…I am not saying it is similar, just looks too much the same…..otherwise I think it is a good concept

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      nice diagrams… certainly really graphic design but sorry to say that I miss the point… Always liked to see BIG (and before PLOT) working the program more than the shape but now seems for me that this is to be aestheticism more than anything else. kind of agree with PANZA >> maturity do not well that way

  14. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Why do they hire architects… if the renders are by a a render office and the ideas a recylced… they took the danish pavillion and scale it bigger… so no sense on the shape….
    no sense on the concept
    people say its nice just beacause they are like sheeps… following trends and since BIG is a trendy name… please people be more critical… and I also wonder all these “competitions” in corrupt countries… no context… no nothing
    really concerning about the state of architecture nowadays

  15. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    and this building is everything excetp efficient, so
    “What is a library but an efficient archive of books… and a path for the public to reach them” (Thomas Christoffersen, Project Leader)
    Is nothing but ANOTHER BIG BULL*

  16. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I think they were using the same concept, in both competitons, at the same time… and, “unluckily”, they won both…

  17. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    Dear readers,

    Comparin this library to the Danish pavilion is like comparing a cube used as a stool with a house designed as a cube…

    Both might be infinite loops, but their structures, and results are way different. The Danish Pavilion is a continuous section, containing a space with the same form, with the roof used as a bike path. This loop is a structural skin, that encloses different spaces, two separate structures… more like Seattle´s Library (on which Bjarke worked back in the day).

    That´s why I reached BIG to feature all this detailed diagrams and plans (unlike other websites that just feature renderings and low res drawings), so you can fully understand what´s “inside” the project.

    I also take this opportunity to publicly thank them for always sharing detailed info with us…. we do a big effort to be an architecture blog done by architects and aiming to HELP architects through information and debate. I hope you value this.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      I really commend you guys on archdaily for what you people everyday—new projects in detailed explanations and documentation to the masses! You are indeed a great resource, but like you I think there are too many douchebags that drink Haterade and say “I don’t like it” and “that’s not architecture” to sound off and feed off their ego. What’s lacking in these comments are a questions about the project’s processes and analytical comparisons that spark debate–not angry rants…c’mon on people this is architecture—not healthcare in America

      • Thumb up Thumb down +1

        I am an architect student and I love looking at projects here and then reading comments from people. Looking at projects is mostly just keepin me updated what’s going on in architecture, but reading the comments is sometimes a learning experience for me!

        I get so irritatet when people just say “this is boring” or “this sucks” or “ahhh, another BIG building”!!! I wonder if many of these people are experienced architects out there. I get absolutely no joy in telling someone off without having good arguments…how can you enjoy writing something like this when you’re not backing it up with good arguments. I really don’t understand it!?? I looooove when I get pointed out something negative about my project that just has the most beautiful arguments behind it! It’s the best learning experience I can ever imagine. It sometimes happens here when people who bother write what’s on their mind with good care, but I really wish it was more often!

        I have nothing to comment on the building…I prefer sucking other peoples comments…at least for now.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      Hello David,
      Although I really like BIG projects, I have to disagree with you.
      As you can see in the “Public Spiral” diagram, the blue spiral is exactly the same shape as “(…) The Danish Pavilion is a continuous section, containing a space with the same form, (…).” But with an exo-struture, or skin.
      Not that I think this is a problem. Or that makes this project weak. But is the same shape…
      PS: What you guys from Archdaily are doing is amazing. You are definitely the best arch blog. The number of posts is incredible and the space for discussion created is priceless.
      Keep the good work!

  18. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    thanks archdaily, it is impressive to see the structural diagrams and that this is more than a rendering and it can actually be built!

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