Rødovre Library by Arne Jacobsen


the entrance to the Library ... the higher roof is the main hall and the windows beyond are an apartment building that was also designed by Jacobsen


Rødovre is a suburb to the west of Copenhagen and was established as an independent municipality in 1901 but it was in the 1950s that a new civic centre was created with a new City Hall designed by Arne Jacobsen on the west side of a new square and completed in 1956. The first plan was to build a library and a new technical school on the east side of the square, facing the city hall, but only the library was built … a larger building than shown on the initial scheme and set slightly further north on the east side of the square with its entrance door immediately opposite the entrance into the City Hall, to form a cross axis to the square.

Not completed until 1969, Jacobsen’s library is a large, flat-roofed, single-storey building, that is clad in dark green/grey stone. In fact, the walls are built in brick and the panels of stone are supported proud of the structural wall with small steel anchors. 



the stone facing of the outer walls is in large blocks that are 43" (110 cm) by 21" high (53 cm) - so almost a double square - and are laid precisely with a half overlap (like courses in standard brick work). The stone wall is not structural - there is a brick wall behind with a gap between the two - and the thin stones, more like tiles than ashlar blocks, are not set with mortar but have steel spacing pins in the edge to keep them a precise distance apart.

There are no windows breaking through the outer wall - just doorways on the west entrance front (facing the City Hall) and on the east side of the building, immediately opposite the public entrance, as access for staff and services.

There are five open courtyards that are glazed on all four sides to bring natural light into the reading rooms and offices and meeting rooms set around the courtyards.

It is as if the aim was to create an inward-looking building to avoid the distraction of views to the World outside.


the south-west courtyard looking north towards the main hall



From the low and relatively dark entrance hall the public move through a sequence of spaces ahead and to either side that are different in size and vary in the amount of natural light. At the centre, beyond the entrance and the library desk, is a main hall for meetings or lectures that has a higher roof supported on columns that are inset from each corner of the space and there is a high clerestory with large sheets of glass and narrow, minimal frames for maximum light as the sun moves around the building during the day. The central area is a step down and the space seems to have the form of a covered atrium.  


the main hall at the centre of the library


A complicated use of geometry and proportions determines the position and the dimensions of all the main features through the building with a geometric grid that includes the courtyards, the main hall, the position and the size of enclosed offices, and the arrangement of doorways and windows and even the position and the dimension of the shelves for books. This geometric framework is used not just for the plan but also to determine the height of the main structure and, it would seem, the dimensions of architectural fittings. 

For instance the height from the basement floor to the underside of the ceiling of the main hall appears to be half the distance between the two cross walls. Although this was calculated using a relatively small reproduction of the drawing of the long section of the building, so complete accuracy cannot be verified, but it suggests that even those dimensions that are not obvious, when standing in the building, are determined by the grid and its underlying geometry.

Large stores in the basement are reached from the reading rooms by circular staircases with curved glass rather than railings so they are reminiscent of the secondary staircase in the Jespersen Building in Copenhagen that goes from the basement there to the first floor.


one of the circular staircases for access to the basement



The Children’s Reading Room is to the north of the Main Hall and the larger Main Reading Room is to the south although that area was sbsequently altered with the removal of original divisions at the south end to create what is now a T-shaped room.

Original fittings and furniture by Jacobsen remain and the original colour scheme for the building can be seen with the framework of the windows into the courtyards in dark olive green; the main concrete piers painted deep blue and the acoustic panels of the ceiling, in drilled/pierced-aluminium sheets, is an ochre brown. The chairs were originally oak veneer but have subsequently been painted.


the main reading room



geometry underlying the design of the building


Ariel view of the main buildings from Google Maps.

The long narrow building is the offices of Rødovre City Hall. To its west, and linked by a single-storey corridor, is the council chamber. That block is rectangular with dimensions that form a Golden Rectangle and the distance between the main City Hall and the chamber is equal to the short side of that Golden Rectangle. The library to the East of the City Hall is a single-storey, flat-roofed building that again is set out with the proportions of a Golden Rectangle and again the distance from the City Hall to the front entrance to the Library is equal to the width of the Library … the short side of the Golden Rectangle.



There is a transverse or cross axis through the library from the centre of the west entrance door to the centre of the east service door. Substantial cross walls, to the north and south of the entrance, are positioned symmetrically, equal distances to the south and north of the axis, to fit within a framework that was determined by geometry. The main hall at the centre has a higher roof raised on columns and the distance from inside the front wall to the centre line of the western columns is equal to the distance between the cross walls so defining a square. In the same way, the east columns are inset from the east or back wall of the library by the distance between the cross walls and the space between the two squares, between the east and west columns but across the full width of the space is a Golden Rectangle with the long dimension north south. The west square and the central Golden Rectangle together form a larger Golden Rectangle that overlaps with a Golden Rectangle formed by the east square and the central rectangle added together.

This sounds more complicated than it is but where the whole underlying system of construction lines becomes interesting is that the space between the north cross wall and the north wall of the library is the same width as the width between the cross walls and both sections are within a large Golden Rectangle defined by the outer walls of the library. Essentially that implies that the position of the entrance doorway was determined by the need to position two internal cross walls within a geometric grid rather than by any relationship to the site or to any demands for the practical arrangement of internal spaces.



There are also two separate grids that determine the position and dimensions of internal features. One determines the position of the piers that support the ceiling and, above that, the main flat roof. The bay system created by the grid has five equally spaced lines of piers running north south - so five lines of piers set from the entrance on the west side back to the east or back of the building forming 6 aisles. These are lined up in 17 rows of piers but with the bay system inset by half a bay from the north and south walls so a half bay with 16 full bays and then a final half bay. These half bays determine the width of a corridor or circulation space across inside of the north and south walls.

The position and dimensions of all main features, including the courtyards, the walls forming enclosed offices and even, initially, the position of the book shelves, were determined by that grid.

That main grid is only broken in the area of the main hall where the roof is raised and supported on columns rather than the rectangular section piers. Here, a secondary grid has different proportions with the long dimension of the rectangle of the grid set north south with six rectangles in line from east to west by five rectangles north south. Only the positions of the four columns, inset from the corners of the hall, and the position of a screen wall behind the entrance desk are determined by this secondary grid.


Dimensions of a Golden Section or Golden Rectangle can be drawn by starting with a square. The diagonal of half the square, when an arc is dropped down from the corner of the square to the base line, forms a Golden Rectangle. The addition to the square is itself another Golden Rectangle. 

The proportions of a Golden Rectangle or a Golden Section can also be calculated because the length of the larger section … here A … divided by the small section B is equal to the whole … A+B divided by the larger section A.

The spacing of the piers through the library is determined by a grid based on equilateral triangles where the diagonal distance between the centres of two piers is equal to the distance between three piers in line north south …. or put another way the distance from the centre of one pier to the centre of the pier to its north or to its south is X divided by two and the distance to the centre of the pier to the east or west is the square root of X.