Inspiring architecture at the medical library Erasmus MC

Sometimes you come a cross a space so amazing you immediately feel good and inspired. The medical library at Erasmus MC in Rotterdam is such a place.

Medical library at Erasmus MC

Last week my girlfriend, the wonderful dr. van den Bosch, was asked to lecture at the Erasmus MC in celebration of the graduation of six doctors. So we travelled to Rotterdam and walked around the central station admiring all the outstandingly good and bold architecture. A city that is truly not afraid to approve the construction of audacious skyscrapers. Lots of people, myself amongst them, feel that Rotterdam is the only real cosmopolitan city in the Netherlands. Big, wide, daring, multi-cultural and contemporary.

We took a tram to Erasmus MC, and walked in through a dreadful entrance, part car-parking, part old building (this entrance is still part of the ‘old’ hospital and will be demolished/renovated in the future). We then entered an amazing space, very capacious with lots of whites and purposely designed elements. A hallway that is multiple stories up, totally open, and features lots of green spots. We heard someone playing a piano that was put in the main hallway. To the sides are secluded spots to learn, have a conversation, eat, or where patients can relax and recuperate.

A place to catch your breath
A study spot amidst plants

Next, we took a white stairway to an attached building and entered the main atrium in the centre of the library. I was flabbergasted. What an astonishing design and a great space to just BE in. To the right was a book wall, a 4-story high book wall, reminiscent of ‘old’ library walls filled with books. Medical books of course. Very cool, a focal point and a link to the past.

A wall of books

You enter on the first floor, on a wide wooden walkway surrounding the entire atrium. The atrium features several places to sit down, or with a small desk light to study, overlooking the main open space. The atrium ceiling is a geometric grid of open glass shards and spans the whole room. This way, a lot of natural light comes in. Looking down on the ground floor there are cubical-like areas, with high walls separating each-other. Some with a big screen to practice presentations, some with PCs to work on, some with just tables and lights. Everywhere people are working: alone, in pairs, or groups. Some are sitting on the stark white couches with a laptop on their lap facing inward, others are sitting on chairs facing a central table or on outward facing desks.

High-end cubicles

After a while you realise it is remarkably quiet, while all around people are talking with each-other. The absence of sound is often not directly noticeable, unless you start to think about it. The big open atrium combined with fabric inside the cubicles dampen a lot of the sound and really make this a pleasant soundscape.

All along the first floor are classrooms in all sizes. There are also a couple of big lecture halls accessible from the walkway. A really nice feature are the crow’s-nest study spots on top of the stairs leading down, overlooking the whole atrium. They’re a really fun playful element and stand out in the open space. Many smaller stairways, out of sight and leading to the ground floor, make the whole space very accessible and easy to navigate.

There is of course a ‘real’ library and a coffee and sandwich bar with big fat leather lounge chairs to enjoy your well deserved cappuccino.

Overal this space inspired me, it seems like an brilliant place to study and work. I wish more public spaces would look so daring and open. Every place where people study should have a high glass ceiling and as little artificial lighting as possible. Practical spaces should be designed with chutzpah and character and not just receive the bare minimum of attention.

Atrium

Claus en Kaan Architecten really showed off their skill here. It is a masterpiece, and no wonder this building won the Rotterdam Architecture price. If you are ever in Rotterdam I really recommend visiting the Erasmus MC to experience this space for yourself. Also get yourself a ‘broodje kerrie-kip’ at Warung Mini at the Witte de Withstraat while you are at it.