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The library of the future is in an 80-year-old converted train shed

At LocHal, you can learn new food skills, read books, or hold events inside a massive retired locomotive storage warehouse.

After spending more than 80 years as a warehouse for locomotive engines, a cavernous industrial building in Tilburg, the Netherlands, began its new life as a local library and events space earlier this year.

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[Photo: Stijn Bollaert/courtesy Civic Architects]

Designed by the Dutch firm Civic Architects, the building is meant to be a new center for civic life, with its classic industrial steel framing and glass windows providing a nostalgic backdrop to bookshelves, public reading tables, a set of amphitheater-like steps that can seat 1,000 people, and an exhibition space. The colossal 58,000 square-foot space is called the “LocHal,” short for Locomotive Hall.

The building housing trains in 1939. [Photo: courtesy Civic Architects]

It’s an example not only of adaptive reuse at its finest, but also a “third space” outside of home or work that mixes events, exhibitions, and learning. And far from being an exclusive space for the elite or wealthy, the LocHal is open to everyone.

[Photo: Stijn Bollaert/courtesy Civic Architects]

To divide up the big open space and improve the building’s acoustics, the Dutch design firm Inside Outside designed large textile screens that are as tall as the LocHal’s nearly 50-foot ceiling. These screens can be deployed via a motorized system creating smaller areas within the library. For instance, the screens can sit across one of the grand staircases to turn one area into more of a private theater, or enclose the area around the coffee shop. They also act like curtains, blocking the sun when it glares through the glass walls.

[Photo: Stijn Bollaert/courtesy Civic Architects]
The books are arranged on movable bookcases, too. But it’s the children’s library that sounds particularly special: It features giant storybooks and bookshelves made from big colored pencils and rulers, inspired by a nearby fairy-tale theme park.

The design is an extraordinary example of adaptive reuse, transforming a decaying industrial building for constructing and storing trains into a place for learning and storing books–while retaining the existing industrial materials, flaws and all. The building was designed so that the floors could bear the incredible weight of locomotive engines, so the architects were able to take full advantage of the existing building and added a little extra in terms of support. One problem, however, was heating and cooling the cavernous building; to maintain the hall as a single, giant volume of space and not break it up with walls, the architects had to engineer five different climate zones within the building to efficiently acclimatize it.

Beyond the architecture and the books, LocHal was designed to act as a resource for learning in general, with a series of dedicated labs aimed at teaching people different skills. For instance, one lab is focused entirely on digital skills, while another focuses on food. The space points to what the 21st-century library should be: a community hub and a center of all kinds of learning. That it’s an architectural marvel is an added bonus.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable

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