26 May 2021 •
Shortlisted - Cultural Space of the Year
NL Architects with DeMunnikDeJongSteinhauser architectencollectief
Forum Groningen is a new multi functional building in the center of Groningen, a cultural ‘department store’ filled with books and content, that offers exhibition spaces, movie halls, assembly rooms, restaurants. The interior turns the Forum into a welcoming space for everyone living in Groningen and beyond. The Forum aspires to be a platform for interaction and debate, a ‘living room’ for the city. A place people love to visit and always leave enriched.
Forum Groningen is NOT a library, NOT a museum, NOT a cinema, but a new type of public space where the traditional borders between these institutes are dissolving. Information is presented thematically in a way that transcends the various media. As a result, after going to a movie, one may borrow a book about cinematography, or one might start studying, surrounded by the objects of a new exhibition.
In the past decade, many libraries have researched the library of the future. In retrospect, this question may have been too much about uncertainty. About their own future as an institution. Looking at Forum Groningen, everyone can see that a new building typology has emerged, one that functions as a hub of knowledge, contact and culture. The word 'library' cannot be found at Forum. But the books are there.
The building is designed as single clear volume to express the desire for synergy, to strengthen the shared ambition to combine different facilities into one new compound. A series of careful cuts nails the building on its site and generates a multitude of different appearances.
Forum Groningen features an exceptional central space, an innovative atrium that with its horizontal 'tentacles' forms the pumping heart of the venue. The void works as a spatial interface that binds all functions, movie theatre, book collection, expo, auditorium and as such hopes to catalyze the exchange of knowledge and ideas. As a result, after going to a movie, one may borrow a book about cinematography, or one might start studying, surrounded by the objects of a new exhibition.
The sequence of stacked "squares" continues the network of open spaces and squares that is characteristic of Groningen. The vertical squares are publicly accessible and provide entry to the ticketable activities. The escalators naturally lead the visitor from place to place through the building. The interior has been designed in such a way that the urban squares remain intact, and at the same time created spaces where visitors feel comfortable and want to stay.
Each space and square have its own interior identity and have been designed to give shape to the program and ensure that many different places and ambiances are created in the Forum. The designers have made optimal use of the different spatial qualities of the building: some places are small or intimate, such as the private living rooms full of books, other places offer visitors impressive views over the city or towards the 30-meter-high atrium. The specific layout offers continuously changing perspectives on the surrounding city and culminates in the roof terrace, a viewing platform and outdoor theater.
The Forum can be seen as a Gesamtkunstwerk: everything works together, architecture, interior and programming reinforce each other.
In an "isolated" city like Groningen, urban dynamics cannot be taken for granted, not even in a regional context. If the city is not collectively maintained, visitor flows easily ignore a dying corner of the city. This lot fell on the Grote Markt East side; the sum of post-war interventions had created an inhospitable atmosphere. Due to loss of function, quality of life and appeal came under pressure.
Although the Forum has an iconic character due to the strong translation of the assignment, the building is programmatically especially important for the livability and social cohesion of the city. After the decade in which we demolished spatial planning and cultural infrastructure almost to the ground, the realization of a fully public cultural building is at least a clear statement against the sell-out of the city. We can only explain the Forum as a contribution to the vitality of the eastern city center and thus to urban life as a whole.
Forum Groningen is compact and as such easy to insulate. Both the opaque and transparent parts of the facade have a very high insulation value. Immense glass surfaces enclose both the north and south sides of the Atrium. In terms of sustainability and energy use this at first this might appear counter-intuitive. But due to the triple glazing that is sun-resistant the temperature is constant and comfortable. The optimized glass keeps out 70 percent of the heat (while actually staying transparent: ) The remaining 30 percent is extracted at the top of the Atrium and stored in the ground to warm up the building in winter. So Forum actually "harvests" energy and as such is independent from fossil fuels.
A sustainable design starts with creating a timeless and high quality building and interior.
As an addition to the grand building the public interior functions are designed with a focus on human scale and tactility. the interior is custom-made, locally produced, with wood as the most common material. Second hand furniture, customized and renovated into unique pieces, play a large role in the interior. Representing and addressing all visitors of Forum Groningen, creating a warm welcome in the different areas.
Forum Groningen is for everyone: all layers of society, from young to old and for all levels of knowledge. There is help for applying for tax assistance, but you can also learn to program robots. 300 workplaces spread over 10 floors with varying atmospheres and views, offer a nice extra space next to home, work or school.
In a world in which individualism is growing and people are increasingly withdrawn into their own bubble, the Forum is a place that brings people together. The public interior with associated facilities can be visited and used free of charge, regardless of who you are or where you come from.
Immediately in the first months, the Forum was flooded with visitors. After opening and before the pandemic, an average of 600.000 people per week visited the Forum. One of the national newspapers ‘de Volkskrant’ describes it is special to see the visitor in the Forum is at first rank: “Forum is not made vandal-resistant, but properly cared for. Trust in the visitor, in the city and in the future, that is the feeling that the Forum conveys. It's inspiring optimism. ”