April 17, 2014

Design Institute: Six Space Challenges from Six Libraries | Library by Design

Some 90 librarians, architects, and vendors gathered to talk about how to build for flexibility in uncertain times and brainstorm solutions to a handful of design challenges — see below for the Challenges and Brainstorms featured at LJ‘s daylong Design Institute held November 11, 2011 at Phoenix’s Burton Barr Central Library. (See also: Building Smart: LJ’s Design Institute Inspires Spaces for the Future)


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Arizona State University— Downtown Campus, Phoenix

Architect Dewberry

THE CHALLENGE  Do more with less—space, that is—but in a new building. Built in 2006 to help revitalize Phoenix, the downtown campus of Arizona State University (ASU) is rocking. It’s grown from 2500 students to 10,000 and projects it will be serving 20,000 in 2020. The existing library is to be replaced but with no real gain in square footage and multiple expectations, including sharing space for some classroom functions and continuing to provide the campus computer commons. Other issues: site selection for proximity to light rail, how to make the most of natural light, and how best best to provide access to meet 24/7 demand. Scott Muir, director of the downtown campus, added potential mission creep to the discussion, describing a growing population of people who work from home but want to use the library for business meetings.

THE BRAINSTORM Leading participants through a wide-ranging look at opportunities and service innovations, Dewberry’s Denelle Wrightson explored how to size the building. To supply “plop” space and answer demand for creative production, the group discussed flexible furniture and collaborative tools such as mobile screens that you can mark up on one side—where study zone meets social zone—and rooms that could be checked out for project work and presentations. Future flexibility should be designed for now, with innovation spaces that don’t have set programs. Collection size seemed to supply a bit of the wiggle room to fit all the ideas into one building. As collections go electronic and offsite, they are expected to take up as little as ten percent to 20 percent of the space in most academic libraries, noted Wrightson. Muir added that students are accepting of a delay in delivery since they are used to the Amazon model of order it online and wait for it, i.e., “They buy the electronic model.” The students, all agreed, should be consulted via focus groups for their buy in and their ideas. And that business community? At least one participant was sure of what to do: foster it.


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Black Hawk Quad Cities
Campus Library, Moline, IL

Architect Humphries Poli Architects

THE CHALLENGE  Take a modest $700,000 and turn a tall and boxy 1970s building into a 21st-century library that can deftly serve its 5000 commuter-heavy student population—without adding to the existing 13,000 square feet. Library director Charlet Key (above, pointing) said that the staff hoped the update would give the users a positive, supportive, and engaging space that reflects the key concepts of discovery, technology, sustainability, flexibility, and community of scholarship. On the list of requirements: more power outlets, collaborative work space, self-check, a single service point for circ and reference, and informal seating. On the wish list: a fireplace and seating area, genius bar, digital classroom, and pod workspace, to name just a few. On the no-brainer list: make the most of a “million-dollar view” of a lake through a wall of windows in the main room.

THE BRAINSTORM Dividing the participants into three groups, Dennis Humphries and Ozi Friedman, from Humphries Poli Architects, assigned each to dream about what they would do, using large, empty blueprints of the floor plan, cutouts of various library elements (and spare scissors and paper), and Sharpies to mark it all up. “This is kind of like a puzzle,” said participant Kay Runge. “You do the edge first and work in.” The puzzle masters set to work, generally shifting student activity toward those appealing windows, lowering shelving to enhance long views, trimming the collection to foster flexibility, and flirting with the best spots for the big wish list items. One idea suggested a grand lodge feel, building on the fireplace and the view. Another created quiet study areas, with the stacks inside and stepped outside the box with outdoor space toward the lake incorporating fire pits and benches. A third spun a dramatic solution off participant Kerry Bierman’s personal perspective. Bierman’s wife had been to the library and gave him insight into how to use the height of the room by building carpeted risers for informal seating, socializing, and study. Friedman noted it was “ a great use of volume,” and the group added power outlets and docking stations and drew in a pie-shaped set of risers across from the windows. Who wouldn’t want to settle in there for the whole day?


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Casa Grande Public Library, AZ

Architect Engberg Anderson

THE CHALLENGE Located in an economically depressed part of town and serving a population of 45,000 via approximately 1000 visitors each day, this library grapples with security issues—from media that walk to a bathroom beyond the secure area and visual control of the library to, most significant, a children’s space that is up front and center, directly inside the entrance. Noting that adults are the prime users (with computers in demand), followed by families, library manager Cara Cameron described the building’s split-level floor plan as having a nice visual connection from level to level but an underused L-shaped circ desk, interior book drops but none outside, an overwhelmed meeting room, and the entry trouble zone. Can moving the children’s room and bringing the restrooms into the security coverage lower the tension in this busy library—and how to do it?

THE BRAINSTORM Bill Williams (r.) and Joe Huberty (l.), both partners at Engberg Anderson, gathered the group to draw out potential solutions on tracing paper placed over a large blueprint of the existing layout. Ideas went right to what to do about the bathrooms. Options ranged from turning the current kids’ bathrooms into bathrooms for all—requiring them to be inside the secure area—to expanding the front desk area into the entrance hallway—bringing the main bathrooms within visual control—to moving the main entrance entirely and incorporating the existing bathrooms within the library proper. A second benefit of the last option: the new entry could turn an underused courtyard into a centerpiece to embrace the street better and allow the kids to stay right where they are. Other ideas included combining circ and information into one desk, putting a training center near the entrance to show the community a more active face, and putting lounge seating near that courtyard to create a homey feel. Participant Gerard Laurito captured the energy. “There are multiple possibilities,” he said. “There is no right answer; there are lots of right answers.”


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Clark College Cannell Library Vancouver, WA

Architect GouldEvans

THE CHALLENGE To pull off a renovation of a two-story, 40,000 square foot library serving 16,000 commuting students (up from 7000) who arrive and stay and are always “on,” said Michelle Bagley, dean of libraries, e-learning, tutoring, and faculty development. Oh, and bring together the library with e-learning, tutoring, and writing after a recent merger. With tight competition for every inch of the first floor for PCs, staff, IT support, and printing, the second floor—with its shrinking collection footprint—might yield to options. Needs? Group study rooms and quiet study areas, multimedia equipment, and a Kinko’s tech center on the first floor.

THE BRAINSTORM Sparked by the Idea Kits created by GouldEvans, participants got busy. They suggested working with movable walls, including powered collaboration walls, to build in flexibility. Dismantle the elongated service desk and replace it with a reference kiosk in the center of the first floor. Check out laptops. Shift shelving to compact units. Perform an ethnographic study to understand users—but avoid “analysis paralysis.” To the mix of ideas, GouldEvans’s Tony Rohr  and Steve Clark (above, l.) added zones of seating, phasing from quiet to social, with quiet near windows, and content creation rooms complete with green screens and audio recording equipment. Among the missions met: fresh ideas for Bagley to take home.


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Glendale Public Library, AZ

Architect Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture

THE CHALLENGE Help visualize a new 34,000 square foot branch that makes the most of an open design and a lovely location in a city park with a trail system. Interim library director Cheryl Kennedy (third from r., above) emphasized a desire for the library to embrace the cultural shift to a producer-driven experience, potentially with genius bars, plenty of technology, and what she defined as “‘play’ spaces for every age.” A downside: the project, first slated to be built in 2005 and then pushed back to 2010, is now looking at 2017 soonest. Upside: they get to start over with a clean slate.

THE BRAINSTORM Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture’s Bruce Flynn first oriented participants to a new “cocreative tool,” called Prezi, that he and colleague Marcia Hocevar (at computer, inset) would be using to explore the ideas as they flowed. The software mined a catalog of images representing various aspects of library use that the group, in two units focused on either “town square” or “teen space,” then discussed and prioritized, moving from big ideas to the granular. As the groups explored the functionality of Prezi and talked, they identified keywords and images and determined where to place them in relationship to one another in a sort of cloud of concepts. Ideas included low, flexible seating and pods for collaborative work and communal settings that feel like home. Then the groups presented the “story” of the ideas to one another. In a broader design process with local stakeholders, each big idea would be the focus of a “chapter” to inform the next stage in a community discussion of the building project.


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Meijer Branch, Jackson District Library, MI

Architect HBM Architects

THE CHALLENGE  To take best advantage of an adjacent 1.5-acre parcel and its relationship to a popular discount store while expanding the current 7700 square foot Meijer Branch. The building, heralded as a trend setter by LJ when it first opened in 1986 (“Cooperative Planning for Successful Library Building,” LJ 12/86, p. 67), is the district library’s most active outlet now in need of a boost to keep up with the growing population. On the table: potential for the new building to also hold joint meeting/convention space for events of up to 350 people in partnership with the local chamber of commerce. On the wish list, according to library facilities director Mike Way: a digital teen area, a new roof with solar power, better climate control, and visibility despite signage limitations owing to the proximity of an airport.

THE BRAINSTORM HBM Architects’ Dan Meehan led the group through a swift 20 questions. What is the first thing you should see? Signs, people, stuff you want, light. Then the group settled in with colored paper, markers, and scissors to play with the elements on large site plans. Place a bunch of parking, some said, at the top of the site and, others added, lean on the nearby store’s lot for overflow. Alternatives emerged for how to cope with a loading dock and a drive-up materials drop, as did discussion of a landscaped or community garden. Designing in a strong indoor/outdoor link could foster a stronger sense of place and options for patrons looking to read, work, or relax. Locating the garden between the library and the store would also honor the natural connection between the store and the library by incorporating the path worn across the parcel.


By Rebecca T. Miller, with Elizabeth J. Allee and Louise Schaper

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