The Royal Library

A Black Diamond

Located in the historic heart of Copenhagen, the extension of the Royal Library connects some of the city’s oldest, most prominent buildings to the waterfront. With its distinctive cubic shape and sleek black facades, it is commonly known as “The Black Diamond”. In addition to serving as a contemporary library it has acted as a catalyst for the revitalisation of the Copenhagen harbour areas, playing a significant role in integrating these cherished recreational blue spaces into the fabric of the city as we recognise it today.

Since its completion in 1999, the Black Diamond has become an icon for Copenhagen – a prominent, accessible, and public focal point for the life in the city, serving as an informal meeting place for citizens, students, tourists, and other guests alike. The intention for the library extension at this unique site in Copenhagen was to create a place within its context of the city. A building that facilitates public life along the waterfront and acts as a communicator between the city and the horizontal everchanging surface of the water. An architectural landmark pre-empting a new era of libraries and initiating the revitalisation of the harbour.

The design for the Black Diamond broke with the notion of the library as an outdated elitist institution by reintroducing it as more than a storage for books, marking a radical shift from traditional library structure to accommodate a wide range of cultural facilities. Its closed exterior and compact shape signal a sense of significance and solemnity, paying homage to the original library building. However, this impression finds its counterbalance in the transparent ground floor level as well as the light and organically shaped interior throughout the building.

As a relatively modest and newly established architecture studio, the accomplishment of winning 1st prize in an international competition with more than 160 contestants was a defining moment for the Schmidt Hammer Lassen’s practice. The innovative and empathetic approach to the design of the Black Diamond kindled what has since become an extensive portfolio of library designs all over the world.

The Royal Library sketch aerial Culture

The library is located at the Copenhagen harbour, between the two bridges of Langebro and Knippelsbro. The generative thought was to reconnect the land with the water and the city with its waterfront.

The Royal Library Archive pictures Culture

The Royal Library - original building on the left and the first extension on the right, seen from the waterside.

SHL Architects The Royal Library sketch 3
The Royal Library photo aerial Culture

The new buildings relate to the existing water front facades in terms of scale and proportions.

The Royal Library harbour elevation Culture
The Royal Library Siteplan Diagram Culture

The road passes through the building, freeing the waterfront from car traffic and inviting people to enjoy the canal. The bridge connects the old and new.

The Royal Library photo exterior Culture

Open and essentially democratic, a solid black volume is raised above the ground level to activate the surrounding public space.

The volume is subdivided by vast glazed voids that create an informal meeting place for all.

The Royal Library Axo view Culture
The Royal Library Sketch Atrium Culture
The Royal Library photo interior Culture

The Royal Library during Culture night event in 2018.

The Royal Library Kulturnat2018 Culture

A monumental ceiling painting by the internationally renowned Danish artist Per Kirkeby announces the transition between old and new.

The Royal Library Copenhagen Per Kirkeby art - Laura Stamer

The original part of the many-facetted building that still houses The Royal Library.

The Royal Library Photo01 Culture
The Royal Library Photo02 Culture
The Royal Library elevation south Culture
The Royal Library Ground Floor Culture
The Royal Library Sketch02 Culture
The Royal Library Stamp1999 Culture
The Royal Library building at dusk front harbour - Laura Stamer
Copenhagen, Denmark
Academic Library
27,000 m²
Completed in 1999
Danish Ministry of Culture
1993, 1st prize in open competition
Interior design:
Moe & Brødsgaard A/S
1999, The Timber Industry Information Council Award, 2000, The Architecture Prize of the Municipality of Copenhagen, 2000, Nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Award, 2001, The Nykredit Architecture Prize, 2003, Du Pont Benedictus Award
Laura Stamer, Jens Markus Lindhe, Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects

Widely known under the nickname “The Black Diamond”, the extension of The Royal Danish Library has proved its adaptability in many senses, being both a well-functioning traditional library, a meeting point for all kinds of cultural events, and standing right on the harbourfront, a significant landmark for the identity of Copenhagen and its inhabitants.

The central space, affords panoramic views over the waterfront, and also serves as a significant source of daylight which is dispersed throughout the building.

The Royal Library photo interior Culture

The extension to the Royal Library is one of the most significant architectural landmarks on the Copenhagen waterfront. The solid black cube is divided in two by a vast glazed atrium, housing the majority of its public functions.

SHL Architects The Royal Library side view
SHL Architects The Royal Library reflection

The Royal Library is a library for the 21st century. With large exhibition areas, a multifunctional hall for concerts and lectures, restaurant, café, library shop, four times as many reading rooms, new cultural institutes and special centres for manuscripts, book history, maps, prints, music, theatre and Oriental and Judaic literature, the new library - totalling more than 40,000 m² with room for 200,000 books on its open shelving against a capacity of previously 45,000 - stands as both a library and a wide ranged cultural and public institution.

SHL Architects The Royal Library interior front view
The Royal Library Entrance Shop Copenhagen - Laura Stamer
The Royal Library Copenhagen Piano Conference Performance Hall - Laura Stamer

Open and essentially democratic, the building includes a café, bookshop, exhibition room, restaurant, scientific and literary institutions, as well as a roof terrace and a 600-seat hall for concerts, theatrical performances and conferences, along with six reading rooms with a total of 486 seats.

SHL Architects The Royal Library book archive
SHL Architects The Royal Library interior bw
SHL Architects The Royal Library studying area 2

Clad in black granite, the extension to the Royal Library  was soon dubbed as the ‘Black Diamond’ – with its clean cut lines and glittering polished surfaces, the library has become a reference point of Copenhagen’s modern architecture

SHL Architects The Royal Library cloud reflection
The Royal Library Copenhagen Per Kirkeby art - Laura Stamer
SHL Architects The Royal Library night lights

Alongside acclaimed artist Per Kirkeby we identified the link area between the old library and the new building as a critical space, where an artwork could positively enhance the sense of connection that we were trying to create. Kirkeby suspended a large circular canvas floating above the information desk, a painting that announces the transition between old and new.

SHL Architects The Royal Library sketch 3

The Royal Library has become a contemporary icon for Copenhagen public and cultural life. 

Sitting at the harbour front it embodies a prominent, yet accessible and public focal point for the life in the city and fulfills the aim of the design to create an informal meeting place for citizens in Copenhagen, students, tourists and restaurant guests.

SHL Architects The Royal Library outdoor corner
SHL Architects The Royal Library escalator