Kalk Library Cologne: engaging the community

As one of the most challenging old industrial areas of Cologne (Germany), the Kalk area wanted to reinvent itself by breathing new life into its community.

08 Oct 2018

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A modern, technologically advanced and interactive library was a first step towards an open community and a contemporary Kalk. Aat Vos describes the creative, consultative approach to the design:

The idea was to create non-commercial place that was inviting to international visitors and set the tone for people to meet, find information and share knowledge. All ages, from children to the elderly, had to be accommodated. The final goal was for all visitors to have the same opportunities to work, read, learn, play, or simply meet up.

From playing games to serious design thinking

The initial idea revolved around social inclusion for younger visitors by adding a gaming station to the library’s youth section. However, after hosting a workshop, working with the local team and talking to stakeholders, it became clear to me that Kalk was ready for a bigger change. Rather than a simple gaming station, we used design thinking methods to redesign the entire library instead. But how could design thinking lead up to a social community? An integrated approach that involved the citizens was the answer. Thanks to the cooperation of Kalk locals, user surveys were collected so the new library would fit perfectly into the community. All parties shared a vision of a third place that their neighbourhood could be proud of and call home.

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An open library

To bring residents together, openness is an important factor. How can a library convey openness in multiple ways? Literally staying open for longer hours and even without staff, the Kalk library adopted an open library concept. As a very diverse community, the concept of open minds is also a priority. Being open to other languages, different ages and cultures is reflected in the library’s interior which includes a multi-lingual media selection, furniture suitable for seniors and a children’s playground. The concept of openness not only welcomes all residents but also provides flexible and unexpected uses of this shared space.

Building a digit-all community in an urban space

Kalk is the district with the highest percentage of migrants in Cologne. One of the main causes of inequality is people not having the same opportunities as others. It is therefore no coincidence that the Kalk neighbourhood now houses one of the most innovative libraries in Germany, including a digitecture project. Bremen artist group Urbanscreen created a unique interactive art project where children and adolescents can experiment with large-scale digital works of art together with local artists. Kalk library features a makerspace as well as a mobile makerspace – an e-cargo bike, which enables us to reach people outside the library (see photo above).

What should have been a gaming station turned into a local living room with a technological edge. Instilling a sense of pride and identity in the community, library is a stepping stone towards a more vibrant urban community. Social architecture presents opportunities for learning to people of all ages and backgrounds, making this library an innovative, interactive and inclusive place for all.

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Kalk Library in Cologne is a co-creation of Aat Vos (design concept, strategy, creative concept) and Franke Architektur | Innenarchitektur. Photos: Marco Heyda

Aat Vos is a design associate of Designing Libraries, bringing an independent and creative design approach to public library spaces.