"The most beautiful newly-built library in the whole of Switzerland..." A history of the architecture of the ZHB on Sempacherstrasse
"As we were promised by highly skilled, external experts, Lucerne now has the most beautiful newly-built library in the whole of Switzerland. It's a building the people of Lucerne can really be proud of..." These were the words of Albert Alois Müller, the first Director of the Central Library, who dedicated the building on Sempacherstrasse in 1951. Müller was not the only one to sing the library's praises. The building, designed by Otto Dreyer for "a medium-sized city without a university" was "pioneering for the early post-war period and was met with worthy acclaim," according to Walter Sperisen, the second Director of the Central Library (as it was known then).
Situated in the heart of the Neustadt district, the library is one of Dreyer's masterpieces and has lost none of its original brilliance after nearly seventy years. The Lucerne-born architect Otti Gmür, who passed away in 2015, saw the ZHB as a building whose "interior and exterior are archetypally modernist" and "subtly detailed and decorated." (Architectural guide, Lucerne 2003)
The library, which was originally going to be built next to the Jesuit church, boasts numerous characteristic features.
"The multistory administration building and the single-story library wing are brick-walled buildings with concrete frames; the stacks are welded steel frames, with each modular section measuring 80 x 200 cm in plan view, and feature on every floor. This small-scale support structure resulted in a more even distribution of the large weight of the books, removed the need for pile foundations typical of the area and at the same time allowed the supporting structure and the bookshelves to be combined into one." (archithese journal, May/June 1985)
"The main entrance is marked by a porch whose upper wall is embellished by a relief by the sculptor August Blaesi called Johannes, der den kündenden Visionen des Engels lauscht [John hearkens the heralding visions of the angels]. A distinct protruding porch roof made of anodized Aluman provides sufficient shelter. (...) The extensive use of marble in the entrance hall gives the space a ceremonial character. The wall paneling and mosaics are made of Cristallina (marble from the upper Valle Maggia). (…) A double-wing door made completely of glass in the entranceway area leads to the issue desk. The decorative fish-shaped door handles are works by the sculptor Godi Müller. As an alternative to the usual arrangement of the waiting room, issue desk and catalog room in three separate rooms, these are all housed in one large hall (23 m long). The back wall of the issue desk is directly adjacent to the five-story stacks.
The weight of the books on the stacks is led downwards by angle iron shelving supports stacked crosswise so that not even a centimeter is lost in the length or height of the shelving support. (...) The stories housing the stacks are connected to each other by fast-moving elevators for both books and library users." (Schweizerische Bauzeitung, 1952)
The library has been a listed building since 2015 and is located in the Sempacherpark (known locally as the "Vögeligärtli"). A planned renovation and refurbishment project that had suffered many false starts and interruptions was deferred again in January 2017 just before construction was due to start owing to the canton's lack of an approved budget. After the budget was approved in autumn later that year, the ZHB was moved to temporary sites in November. Construction then began in December 2017. The newly renovated and refurbished building was re-opened just two years later on December 11, 2019.