Renewing a heritage library: planning the renovation and extension of the Staats- und Stadtbibliothek Augsburg (State and City Library of Augsburg), Germany

by Dorothea Sommer


The renowned Staats- und Stadtbibliothek Augsburg (State and City Library of Augsburg) is housed in a veritable nineteenth-century Palace of Books created in 1892– 1893 by the architects Fritz Steinhäußer and Martin Dülfer. Like many nineteenth century libraries, its viability in the twenty-first century was in doubt as costs of maintenance and renewal escalated and the role of the library was questioned. Successful initiatives have ensured improved prospects and a worthwhile future. Planning is underway for the renovation and extension of the building to ensure the preservation and appropriate presentation of Augsburg’s valuable collections and cultural heritage, and quality service delivery for an important region of Germany.

State and City Library of Augsburg
Front façade of the State and City Library of Augsburg at night. Picture: Eckhart Matthäus

An Extensive History and Tradition

Augsburg is the third oldest city in Germany and is located in the region of Swabia in Bavaria, the largest of sixteen states in Germany. The State and City Library of Augsburg is one of the oldest German civic libraries and was founded in 1537 during the Reformation. Book and manuscript collections previously located in the monasteries found a new home in the civic library funded by the magistrate of Augsburg and located in the Annahof by Bernhard Zwitzel in 1562-3. The Library was regarded in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as one of the most important German libraries devoted to the study of liberal arts. Its fame was widespread and even a Pope (Pius VI) visited it in 1762. The Library’s rich heritage of incunabula and early printed books of the late medieval and Renaissance period are well-known throughout the world.

Despite its long history and tradition, the Library was threatened by closure in 2010 when the city’s administration sought to discontinue its services for economic reasons.  The role of twenty-first century libraries as cultural memory institutions was questioned and discussed widely within the community. The state of Bavaria in 2012 took on the responsibility of funding and administering the Augsburg Library within the framework of the Bavarian State Library, which oversees ten regional state-funded libraries in Bavaria. The ongoing existence of the Library was ensured by this action. The Augsburg Library continues to be responsible for collecting the publishing output for its region of Swabia through legal deposit legislation.

The Majestic Historic Building

Fritz Steinhäußer and Martin Dülfer were responsible for the construction of a new library building in 1892-3 and chose a neo-Baroque style for the building constructed in Schaezlerstraße on the remnants of the old city wall of Augsburg. The building features a façade with large Orangery windows bringing light into the stacks, an approach subsequently frequently regarded as damaging to books. A remarkable feature of the interior is the staircase. Steinhäußer modelled it on one created by the Italian architect Maurizio Pedetti in the residency of Steinhäußer’s home town Eichstätt.

The staircase leads to two cimelia (treasures) rooms on the first and second floors situated in the middle of the stacks. Their inclusion in the building was an explicit wish of the magistrate of Augsburg in the 19th century who wanted to showcase the famous collections to the public. The building is a steel construction typical of other stack libraries of the period, such as the University Library in Halle which the architects had visited while planning the Augsburg library.

It is noteworthy that the Augsburg Library was included as an example of outstanding contemporary library architecture along with the library buildings of the British Museum (now British Library) in London, the Library of Congress in Washington and the Public Libraries of Chicago and Boston in the great German encyclopaedia and important reference source, Meyers Konversations-Lexikon in 1905.[1]

Illustration of the City Library of Augsburg
Illustration of the City Library of Augsburg among other contemporary library buildings in Meyers Grosses Konversationzs-Lexikon. 6th ed. Vol.2 pp.823-5

Establishing the Way Forward

With guaranteed Bavarian state government funding, it has become possible to develop the State and City Library of Augsburg into an innovative, regionally oriented research library. A milestone in the institution’s more than 480-year history is the planned renovation and extension of the Library. The task of renewal has many aspects. On the one hand, it is necessary to ensure the building meets current standards for public buildings regarding accessibility, fire protection and energy output. On the other hand, the listed building must meet the requirements of monument protection, which may include, for example, the restoration of historical paintings on the ceilings of the cimelia rooms. Furthermore, the collections need additional storage space. Areas for research and study must be accommodated. Rooms for meetings and exhibitions are required. The planned building project requires the “wow” factor and it will become a highly visible feature and placemaker in the city.

Seeking Input through a Competitive Process

In August 2016, the state of Bavaria tendered an architectural competition for the renovation and extension of the State and City Library of Augsburg. The design of the landscaping around the stand-alone building was included. It was specified that the project must blend any new building into Augsburg’s emerging cultural quarter located nearby. Adjacent to the Library is the municipal theatre for which there are renovation plans by Walter Achatz as well as the Grottenau post office to be integrated by Christian Knoche into the Augsburg University’s future Leopold Mozart Centre. In addition, the re-design of the nearby Fugger Boulevard, planned by Eberhard Wunderle (Neusäß) is on the agenda.[2]

Apart from the historical flower gardens in front of the library, it was also deemed important to relate the construction to the Maria Theresia school located at the back of the Library building. While a campus setting is intended to connect the two buildings, users must be able to work and conduct research in the Library’s reading room without being affected by excessive noise. Because of the numerous requirements, the competition was divided into two sub-projects: the renovation and modernization of the listed library building; and the extension of the library in the shape of a new building. The effective area allocated and approved for the building project and the prerequisite for any design was 4,450 square metres.

The Outcomes of the Competition

The Department of State Building in Augsburg received one hundred entries to the competition. After preliminary examination of the submissions by a panel of twenty-five architects and landscape architects, a short list of twenty-three entries was developed.  A jury of fifteen people chaired by Professor of Architecture Arno Lederer from Stuttgart was appointed to examine the short-listed submissions. The jury included representatives from the Bavarian State Ministry for Education, Science and the Arts; the Bavarian State Ministry of Finance; the Bavarian State Library; the State and City Library of Augsburg as the building project’s users; Professor of Architecture Karl-Heinz Schmitz from Weimar; and representatives from the city of Augsburg. A nominee from the Bavarian State Office for Monument Protection participated in an advisory capacity. Criteria for assessing the entries were: quality, particularly in relation to town planning; the approach to the existing building; and the library’s functional operations and workflows.

Following intensive and extensive examination of the submissions, the jury awarded three recognitions and two prizes in the competition. The first prize went to the internationally renowned architectural practice Max Dudler (Berlin, Zurich, Frankfurt) in conjunction with the landscape architects Hager Partner AG (Berlin). Max Dudler has made a name for itself with several outstanding library buildings, including the Library of the Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Centre (Berlin), the Folkwang Library (Essen), the Münster Diocesan Library, the Heidenheim Municipal Library and in the near future the Gießen University Library. The second prize was awarded to the bidding consortium Klein & Sänger Architekten GmbH (Munich) with Friedrich-Poerschke Zwink Architekten GbR (Munich) and the landscape architects bauchplan (Munich).

Recognitions were awarded without ranking to the following architects and landscape architects: Gerber Architekten GmbH (Dortmund), the bidding consortium Glass Kramer Löbbert bda, Gesellschaft von Architekten mbH with Höhler + Partner Objektplanung Süd GmbH (Berlin) with landscape architects BBZ Landschaftsarchitekten BmbH (Berlin) and the architectural practice Knerer und Lang Architekten GmbH (München) with landscape architects HinnenthalSchaar LandschaftsArchitekten (München).

Model of the State and City Library of Augsburg
Model of the State and City Library of Augsburg, Department of State Building Augsburg

The Winning Design

The jury acknowledged that the winning design represented a successful and distinctive composite of the existing building and new construction. The proposed design emphasized the effective integration of the prizewinning entry within the municipal context and achieved symmetry between the existing building and the new building which virtually mirrors the capacity of the existing building. The jury valued the building’s enhanced accessibility, with two equally prominent entrances leading through the building on an east-west axis, one being dedicated to disabled access. Between the new construction and the Maria Theresia grammar school, a campus-style courtyard will be created. The precious groves of trees within the grounds surrounding the building will be preserved. Comparatively few changes will be made to the existing building. The existing supporting structure and the previously mentioned steel construction will remain intact. The functional attribution of the various areas into public, semi-public and non-public zones will be further developed as part of the preliminary planning. The jury determined that the winning design was compact and offered numerous possibilities and options, enabling the construction of a representative and functional building for the State and City Library of Augsburg.

Computer model of the State and City Library of Augsburg
Computer model of the State and City Library of Augsburg, looking at the courtyard from the south

The Next Steps

The in-depth conceptual realization of the winning design by Max Dudler began in Autumn 2016. The Department of State Building in Augsburg, has led intensive fortnightly planning discussions with the architects, technical planners and representatives from monument preservation. The site’s future users, the State and City Library and the Bavarian State Library have both been involved in the ongoing discussions. It is currently estimated that the construction works will begin in 2019 or 2020, provided that the State of Bavaria authorizes the funds required for construction. The completion of the building is targeted for 2021 or 2022. Time will tell whether these targets can be achieved.

[1] Meyers Grosses Konversations-Lexikon : ein Nachschlagewerk des allgemeinen Wissens. 6th ed. Leipzig ; Bibliographisches Institut, 1902-1913, Vol. 2, pp. 823-825, table I, fig. 4, table IV, Fig. 4.

[2] Stefanie Schoene „Ein neues Kulturquartier?“  Augsburger Allgemeine. No. 258, 8 November 2016. (Retrieved 23 June 2017)

Author details

Dorothea Sommer is the Deputy Director-General of the Bavarian State Library in Munich. Prior to this appointment, Dorothea was Deputy Director and Acting Director of the University and State Library Sachsen Anhalt at Martin Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg in Halle and involved in several library building and design projects within its library system. She is currently a corresponding member of the IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment (LBE) Section Standing Committee after serving on the Committee from 2007 -2015, including a two-year term as Secretary and a four-year term as Chair. She has published several articles on library architecture and edited two books in the IFLA publication series. She is co-editor of ABI-Technik, the leading German library journal on automation, library architecture and technology. Her professional interests apart from library architecture and design include library management, digital innovation, transformation processes and cultural heritage issues. She can be contacted at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s