Open Air Library / KARO Architekten

© Anja Schlamann
© Anja Schlamann

Architects: KARO Architecten / Antje Heuer, Stefan Rettich, Bert Hafermalz, Leipzig Architektur+Netzwerk, Sabine Eling-Saalmann, Magdeburg
Location: Magdeburg,
Collaborators: Christian Burkhardt, Gregor Schneider, Mandy Neuenfeld
Project Partners: Bürgerverein Salbke, Fermersleben, Westerhüsen e.V.
Structural Engineer: Michael Kurt, Leipzig
Light Conception: Jürgen Meier, architektur&medien, Leipzig
Consultant: Ruth Gierhake, Köln
Commissioner: City of Magdeburg
Funding: Ministry of infrastructure, building and city development
Project Area: 488 sqm
Budget: $325,000 Euro
Project year: 2008-2009
Photographs: Anja Schlamann

© Anja Schlamann © Anja Schlamann © Anja Schlamann © Anja Schlamann

The open air library, we established in 2005 in an abandoned district centre in East Germany has been started with a public intervention, using beer crates as building material: On the fallow site of the former district library a 1:1 model of a possible Open-Air-Library has been build up for two days and the shelves have been filled with book donations. The residents took over the energy of the temporary project and opened up an informal district library near the site which now offers more than 20.000 books. The outdoor space as an addition has been designed together with the residents and opened in June this year.

© Anja Schlamann
© Anja Schlamann

Project Information

The southeast of Magdeburg belongs to these urban areas in Eastern Germany which are characterized by abandoned industrial plants and fallow land. A post-industrial city landscape with high unemployment and figures of vacancy up to 80%. This also concerns the district Salbke. The spatially intact city center stands almost completely empty. Its image is shaped by pasted over shop windows and fallow land. The encountered reality served us as a resource and starting point for an urbanistic experiment.

plan 03
plan 03

In collaboration with the local residents the fallow zones of the former village library are developed as a “bookmark”. Remembrance, history and narratives provided the background for the “re-occupation” of the abandoned expanse. An old empty shop was used as base for a temporary library and camp for a building workshop. There, books were collected and design strategies for reclaiming the site were developed.

With more than 1.000 lent beer crates the favorite draft was constructed together with the locals in the scale 1:1 [2005]. The shelves of the temporary library were filled by the residents with books. A festival followed with poetry slam and readings to prove the everyday suitability of the new urban situation. Since 2005 more than 20.000 books were collected and the local residents pursue a reading café quite near the site. But it took some years to organize the money to build this so called “bookmark” for real. Since 2006 the project is part of a research project of the federal government and is funded as a pilot project for realization.

© Anja Schlamann
© Anja Schlamann

In June this year the outdoor-library opened officially. The residents which take care for the reading-café as well as for the open-air-library call it a “library of confidence”: There is no registration needed. You can just take a book away and should bring it back voluntary or at least another one. The shelves are never closed; you can go there and take a book when ever you want – 24 hours a day.

As another communal function a stage is included. This is used by the elementary school for theatre plays, as well as for public readings, for concert-gigs of local youth bands and other cultural and communal events.

Beside the social aspects, the architectural kick is the re-use of the modernist facade of the old HORTEN warehouse of the City of Hamm [built in 1966], which has been knocked down in 2007.

Cite: "Open Air Library / KARO Architekten" 01 Nov 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 19 Sep 2014. <>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    That’s a really interesting project. It’s very optimistic, bargaining on the cooperation of citizens, fostering ‘community’. It’s a very different concept of library. Surely the pragmatists and realists will scoff at its naive approach to a ‘precious’ resource – wondering how the books are protected, what keeps people from stealing them, if people will actually go there in the winter – but that’s the least interesting critique. I would like to see how this project has held up, how the community has accepted it and protected it, and how it has enriched and been enriched through use. Also, the whole reuse of the facade thing is pretty awesome – a kind of reclamation of the industrial landscape to create livable space.

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    Very nice project. Just one point, we have a shopping mal in our city, it’s covered with the same elements, which were actually developed for the Horten Shops, i guess in the late 50ies. It’s a nice structure, but they had to put a metal mesh over it, birds used to build their nests there. So I hope it won’t happen there.

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    I really enjoyed this project but the name of each part of library is not clear
    I`m so gratefull if you do me a big favor and send me more detail of this greate project.

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    Lieben Dank ffcr die Willkommensgrfcdfe!Wir sind froh fcber so kompetente und nette Hundefreunde, die uns mit Rat und Tat zur Seite stheen! DER Toni und Anja

  5. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    As a librarian I was curious to see this special library this summer. It looked indeed like a superb project. I liked the building, bus I was disappointed to see that it was abandoned and neglected. What happened?

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