From reading to building material: a second life for discarded library books

Claudia Carle (Eawag), Lothar Nunnenmacher

At the end of August, the new “Sprint” unit was opened at NEST, the research and innovation platform of Empa and Eawag. The unit with office space was largely built with recycled components and materials. Two walls consist of periodical volumes and books that have been discarded by Lib4RI at Forum Chriesbach in the course of digitalisation.

Partitions for Covid-19-compliant individual offices
It is all the more gratifying that some of these books and journals have now found a new home in the Sprint unit. Temporary partition walls have been installed in order to provide Covid-19-compliant individual offices. If necessary, they can be flexibly dismantled later in order to create larger spaces again. For these partition walls, the architects experimented with a wide range of different materials. For example, there are walls made from used pieces of carpet, from reject bricks and two from books and journals. The volumes were layered in a wooden frame – some laid flat, others stacked on edge – with strips of carpet between the layers and worn-out climbing ropes for stabilisation. “We experimented with different construction methods,” explains architect Kerstin Müller from the on-site construction office. “The books of different sizes were especially difficult to assemble. It was a real puzzle.” Small gaps nevertheless remain and limit the acoustic insulation effect. The partition wall made of carpet tiles performs better in this respect and was also tested in the Empa acoustics laboratory. On the other hand, the wall of books is visually striking thanks to the pattern of different coloured book and journal covers. All the same, Müller assures us that the book wall is more than just an attractive gimmick. Her office is planning a small catalogue of possible re-use materials and constructions for interior walls. Books and journals will also find a place in them.

New ideas sought for the newly opened space
Lothar Nunnenmacher has already made plans for more book walls and has put a few crates of discarded stock to side for this purpose. This is because the increasing transition from print to online is freeing up space in the library that can be put to new use. Although the library team will continue to be on site to advise researchers, Lothar also envisages using the premises as an informal meeting place (library café) and – separately – as a room for concentrated work (alternative working space with a “reading room atmosphere”). “Book walls would provide an appropriate ambience,” says Lothar. But he is grateful for any feedback from Empa and Eawag employees on these plans: how should the freed-up space in the library be used in future? Send your feedback and ideas to @email.

More photos and additional info on the Sprint opening are available from the Empa News Portal.