Conversion of a school building to a library in the area of Ostkreuz-Friedrichshain, Berlin

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Main actors

Local Government

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Project area

Neighborhood or district

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Ongoing since 2008/01

The innovative and sustainable architectural concept applied to the District Central Library has delivered a new cultural meeting point for all generations that contribute to revitalizing the area.

Until 2005, the four-story prefab building located at Frankfurter Allee 14a in Berlin housed a school. The conversion project initiated by the district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg commenced in 2008. Assisted by the architect firm “Peter W. Schmidt Architect BDA”, the authorities planned the establishment of a new District Central Library with the aim of providing the neighborhood with a new meeting point for interested readers of all ages. The library is not only storing and offering diverse media to the public: It is also designed as a place for communication and exchange. In the new library, students, families and seniors can, for instance, meet at the reading café or attend a conference in the new auditorium.

The architectural conception of the 2,706 square meters new District Central Library is both sophisticated and functional. A remarkable design element of the library building is the façade, characterized by a curtain of solid wooden slats. The entrance to the building consists of an open and spacious, two-story foyer. By means of large-area façade openings, the library is at the same time visually opened to its city environment. The appearance of the building alone draws much public attention and interest to the library. The project has been largely financed by the national funding program “Stadtumbau West” (“Urban Restructuring in the New Federal States”).

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Berlin, Germany

Size and population development
The population registered for the municipality of Berlin in 2017 was 3,613,500, making it the second most populous city in the European Union. The larger metropolitan area has around 5 million people living in 1,347 square kilometres, giving it a population density of around 15,000 people per square kilometre—similar to Mexico City or Tokyo.

Population composition
It has been estimated that up to 30 percent of Berlin’ s population are of foreign origin. The foreigners originate from other parts of Europe—such as Serbia, Croatia, Poland, Russia, Spain, Bosnian, Bulgarian, and Italian—as well as from countries outside of Europe, such as Turkey, Palestine, Iran, Syria, Egypt and Ghana. The largest non-native population comes from Turkey; in the year of 2010, there were more than 100,000 Turkish registered as inhabitants of Berlin.

Main functions
Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany, as well as one of the nation’s 16 states. It is situated approximately 112 miles (180 km) south of the Baltic Sea and lies in the wide glacial valley of the Spree River, which runs through the centre of the city. The city extends over an area of 891.7 square kilometres and stands at an average altitude of 34 meters above sea level. After the reunification of the two Berlins in 1990, Germany began a process to centralize the capital to Berlin (replacing Bonn, the former capital of West Germany). Since then, Berlin is the place where the German House of Representatives and the German Bundestag hold elections. However, it wasn’t until 2001 that the Bundestag and the government of Berlin were fully established under the same roof. Berlin is also a city of great cultural significance, which is evident if one considers the amount of historical landmarks that tie the city’s history to its multiple overlapping pasts. Some of the most important landmarks include the Holocaust memorial (inaugurated in 2003), remnants of the Berlin Wall (taken down on the 9th of November 1989), the Reichstag Building (which dates to 1884). As the capital of Germany, Europe’s most populous and economically powerful country, Berlin is also the centre of, culture, politics, media and science in the country and serves as a European hub for air and rail traffic.

Main industries / business
As the 4th largest economy of the world, Germany participates of a wide array of industries with a famous efficiency. In Berlin one may find strong state-owned enterprises, like the Deustche Bahn (the railway), which employs the largest amount of general population (more than 20,000 people). Other companies that thrive in Berlin are: the Deustche Post (DHL), the technology company Siemens, the automotive manufacturer BMW, and the telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom. Hence, one may assume that Berlin specializes in the secondary and tertiary sectors of economy. Tourism brings more than 135 million visitors to the city (which include day-time visitors as well as overnight ones). Apart from other student cities in Germany like Köln and Munich, Berlin houses some of the most well-reputed universities in the world: the Freire Universität Berlin and the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, with more than 30,000 students each.

Sources for city budget
Berlin draws its budget for public expenditure largely from taxes, transfers received, fees, fines, and operating revenues. This money is federally approved and spent in such a way that it can also be used in the form of funding for companies, not only to comply with the provision of quality public services.

Political structure
Berlin serves both as a city with a local government and as capital of Germany. In regard to the latter, it houses the Bundesregierung (Federal government), the Bundestag (Federal parliament) and the Bundesrat (the States’ chamber of Parliament). Each of the 16 states of Germany has representation in Berlin. It is governed by the Berlin Senate which is comprised of 10 senators and the Governing Mayor. Also, the embassies of other countries from around the world are housed in the city. The 16 states (Laender) have a similar standing to the federal government in respect to most issues.

Administrative structure
Berlin is administrated by the Senate and its 12 districts or boroughs. The Senate is the city’s central administration, in charge of city planning, public policy, and regulation of public and private spheres. The district administrations decentralize some public functions, with reasonable difference between the various localities.

The new District Central Library of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is established in a vacant school building constructed in the 1960s. The library is located in the heart of the Friedrichshain district. Its immediate vicinity is characterized by residential areas and other existing school buildings thus making the library easily accessible to the local population.

Through the complex renovation works that were carried out over two years, the new structure of the building had to meet, in its form and function, the needs of a public library. The objective of the project was to contribute to rebuilding and revitalizing the area around the Frankfurter Tor and Warschauer Straße and thus to improve the overall quality of life in the district. The diverse range of resources and equipment available to the public in the library and the architectural quality of the new building had to contribute to the realization of this objective.

The facade

The new building’s shell is composed of slats of wood that have been suspended in front of the existing prefabricated façade. From the outside, the building appears as a monolith associated with a two large openings that provide the library with its public character. Prefabricated elements made of aluminum have been introduced perpendicularly into the wood sheets. The interplay between the various slat positions of the facade lets the light come inside the building with changing intensity. At night, interior lighting makes the building seems “translucent, light and fragile”.

Construction and materials

Whereas the supporting structure of the building has been kept intact, the removal of the existing interior fittings has resulted in a library building with flowing interiors. The interior walls and the ceilings have been plastered and painted white. An energy efficient lighting system ensures appropriate illumination of the library at night. The floors in the entrance of the library are equipped with oak parquet flooring. The other levels are covered by a linoleum floor in warm tones that differentiate each floor by a particular color.

Fire protection design for the facade

According to the requirements of the Berlin’s building regulations, surfaces of exterior walls must be flame retardant. The building includes a black-clad thermal barrier coating located under the suspended wood facade. Only non-combustible building materials have been used behind the wooden slats.


The fact that the building structure has been kept unchanged and only the interior fittings have been remodeled has allowed the project to be successfully implemented within original, relatively low, budget parameters. Moreover, heat protection requirements applied to the façade guarantee insulation. Exposure occurs mostly with natural light. Thanks to the wooden slats on the façade, sun protection is guaranteed to ensure thermal insulation in summer, whereas daylight is directed in an optimal manner in the building interior. Through an enhanced window glazing, the energy loss of the building has been largely reduced: on the north side, the total window area has been reduced to a minimum.

Total cost: EUR 5.46 million, of which 4.71 million was allocated from:

• the "Urban Restructuring in the New Federal States" program,

• the EU (ERDF "library in the district")

The District Central Library has a collection of around 100,000 books and media for children, adolescents and adults that can be used for on-site consultation or circulation.

Visitors of the District Central Library have access to:

  • a reading Café that offers the opportunity to work or consult a document in a more relaxed atmosphere,
  • event rooms where readings and language development sessions are organized, 
  • a family library opened to children, parents, grandparents, educators and teachers. This is a large space for shared reading, playing games or doing homework. It also offers public access to books, magazines and games, including PC and console games. 
  • a multimedia learning center that invites visitors to surf on the Internet, work with Office programs and access an online e-learning platform to gain language skills. 
  • SelfCheck machines that encourage the public to borrow and return books and other media in an independent manner.

The District Central Library of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg has become a benchmark example for sustainable redevelopment. Thanks to sophisticated architecture and interior design concepts, an existing public building has been successfully converted and reinvigorated for use as an educational and cultural space that will be of great benefit to the local community.

- Peter W. Schmidt Architekt BDA. 2014. Erläuterungsbericht Wettbewerb Bezirkszentralbibliothek Frankfurter Allee, Berlin Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 18 October 2016].

- 2016. Bibliotheksbau...vom Schulhaus zur Bibliothek. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 18 October 2016].

- Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment. 2016. Ostkreuz Friedrichshain Umnutzung einer Schule zur Bezirkszentralbibliothek "Pablo Neruda". [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 18 October 2016].

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Want to know more about this project?
Contact our community manager.

Camille Toggenburger
Berlin, Germany

Camille Toggenburger

Individual | Community and Content Manager | urban sustainability exchange

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