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

Berlin, Germany

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”).


City information

Size and population development
3.670.000 (December 31, 2016)

Population composition
12,6% non-German, the majority come from (in order) Turkey, Poland, Italy, Serbia and Kosovo, Russia

Main functions
Capital City of Germany and one of the 16 German states

Main industries / business
Service industries, tourism, higher education, creative industries, IT and media

Political structure
The Senate of Berlin is the executive body governing the city of Berlin. The Senate is composed of the Governing Mayor of Berlin and up to ten Senators appointed by the Governing Mayor.

Administrative structure
Berlin is governed by the Senate Government and 12 District Governments.

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Background and objectives

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.

Financing and resources

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")

Results and impacts

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.
Lessons learned and transferability

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].

External links / documents