Vennesla Library – ArchiCAD 16 Signature Project

One might recognise this building from the side of new ArchiCAD 16 pack. The release of ArchiCAD version 16 coincided with the opening of the new Vennesla cultural centre designed by Helen & Hard Architects – a modern monumental building and a community meeting place in one.

The project won the wood building prize in 2011 and the State construction prize in 2012, and it has been widely discussed in architectural periodicals in Norway and abroad. Wood is used innovatively in the building, its architectural design is outstanding, and building services are integrated in an exemplary fashion.
The cultural centre has a new library and café and public meeting places; the concept brings together the pre-existing cinema and adult education centre into a completely new entity. The purpose of the building is to create an attractive public space, and to this end part of the foyer of the existing cinema was dismantled to open up a vista to the square outside. The glass elevation and indoor seating link the building to the square and the pedestrian street.

Structures and materials

The principal structure consists of 54 pillars and 27 arches. These cover the entire space while housing all the piping, cabling and building furniture. The arches are made up of CNC-machined glue-laminated wood elements. Their shape conforms to that of the existing building. The structure allows for plenty of natural light to enter, and all along the inside of the elevation there are reading nooks, bookcases, etc. The arching structures consist of glue-laminated wood pillars and beams, acoustic panels functioning as ventilation ducts, moulded panels that reflect light, and integrated fixtures such as bookcases, exhibition stands and nooks for sitting and reading.
The gradual change of shape from one arch to the next reflects the appearance of adjacent buildings and the technical, architectural and practical demands of the various building components. The appearance of the arches shifts as one moves through the space. The arches are also visible from the outside.
Håkon Minnesjord Solheim, an architect with Helen & Hard, explains that it took a long time for the designers to decide on a shape for the arches. “We decided to model the arches as objects and then link them to the model. It was not the optimal way to go, because changes to the arches were difficult to make. If one joint was changed, they all had to be changed. Also, we had to make 2D drawings of all the arches, because we could not think of any other sensible way of modelling them. RIB modelled everything in 3D directly into Revit but only handled the glue-laminated wood. Our arch model included not only glue-laminated wood but also pipes and cables, bookcases, curved lighting fixtures, and so on.
“Designing large structures in wood is also challenging because the tolerances are far smaller than for instance with concrete. Wood is a living material, which must always be taken into account. We had to find solutions to allow for this,” says Solheim.
All the exterior walls are open structures in solid wood, with an element on the outside containing mineral wool insulation. All interior and exterior walls, the lift shaft, slab beams and glue-laminated arches are in solid wood. The acoustic panelling is wood, all floors coverings are oak parquet, and all fixtures are made of cross-laminated birch. The exterior cladding is made of untreated core pine. The sun screen is also made of glue-laminated wood.


Accessibility was a key design feature. All main functions of the building are on the entry level, and orientation in the space is easy. The wood arches, integrated acoustic panels and fixtures create an acoustic environment that exceeds the requirements set. All library functions are on the same level; moreover, the floors of the new and existing buildings are linked and provide access to the lifts.


One of the main aims of the project was to reduce overall energy consumption in the new building and the two existing building sections. The placement of the new building in itself reduced the energy consumption of all three sections. The goal was to produce a ‘low energy building’ with energy classification A. The new building incorporates low-energy and passivhaus components. The wood used as surface material equalises fluctuations in humidity and temperature in the building. Also, there are practically no emissions from the wood, and the material has hygroscopic properties that serve to improve the quality and healthiness of the indoor air.
The building has radiator-based water circulation central heating, with water pipes led through the floor and the ventilation equipment. The principal heat source is a groundwater geothermal heat pump. The exterior walls have solid wood insulation 10 cm thick. The U value of the glass elevation and windows is between 0.7 and 0.9.

Leveraging the properties of ArchiCAD

The design work was carried out between 2009 and 2011, using ArchiCAD versions 13 and 14. Solheim notes that the designers were able to leverage most of the features of ArchiCAD in their work. “Everything was modelled in a 3D environment on a large scale, and we also created a BIM model that we provided to the design team. The confined space on the plot and its unique geometry presented us with challenges, and although the modelling proceeded without problems, we encountered anomalies on site that we had not been expecting. Fortunately, thanks to close monitoring and a competent contractor and site manager who understood the challenges of the project, all went well. The BIM models were much used on site, enabling the contractor to progress flexibly with the building and installation work. BIM also proved to be a useful demo tool at site meetings.”
Solheim says that freeform shapes proved to be difficult to handle in ArchiCAD, but he hopes that version 16 will improve this. The office has a software service agreement for ArchiCAD, allowing them access to new versions immediately on their release.

State construction prize 2012

The jury for the State construction prize 2012 noted that the Vennesla library and cultural centre represents Norwegian building construction at its finest. “The design combines technological and architectural innovation and is an excellent public space. The Vennesla library and cultural centre shows that beauty may be found in the most surprising contexts,” said the jury in its report.
Helen & Hard were also the recipients of the State construction prize in 2010 for their Preikestolen fell cottage, also designed using ArchiCAD.

Written by Cecilie Remøy, Graphisoft

This article was published in the 4/2012 issue of ArchiMAG in December 2012. Get your copy of ArchiMAG from App Store!

One Response to “Vennesla Library – ArchiCAD 16 Signature Project”
  1. The roof of the Centre Pompidou-Metz museum is composed of sixteen kilometers of glued laminated timber. It represents a 90-metre wide hexagon with a surface area of 8,000 m². The glued laminated timber motif forms hexagonal wooden units resembling the cane-work pattern of a Chinese hat.