LJ’s Design Institute (DI) in Cuyahoga County, OH, was itself an example of one of the major trends it planned to cover—flexibility. When Hurricane Sandy rendered New York–based LJ staff and many presenters incommunicado or unable to travel to the event on its originally scheduled date, architects and the event’s host, the Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL), worked with LJ to pull off a rescheduled get-together only a month later on December 14, 2012. Attendees rearranged their schedules to provide a full house despite the short notice and approaching holiday season.
By the time architects and attendees alike made it to the Focus on Flexibility panel, everyone involved had already practiced what they preached and were ready to get down to brass tacks. Gillian Miller, operations project manager, Queens Library, NY, led a panel on the practical aspects of how to deliver a flexible facility that can adapt to the challenges we can’t predict, decades down the line.
Adrianne Ralph, facilities design coordinator, King County Library System, WA, recommended designing for simplicity: a rectangular or square space with as few columns as possible, with an intuitive flow of traffic, to minimize the need for signage (or asking a librarian where the bathrooms are).
Richard Ortmeyer, principal, Bostwick Design Partnership, took the principle of repurposeable space one step further, suggesting that libraries choose their sites with room to expand—and to look at “soft space” that can be easily adapted to satisfy a variety of uses without professional intervention. Ortmeyer also suggested putting the windows where people can see fun things happening in the library—that the building should “be its own billboard.”
Meanwhile, Tracy Sweeney, project architect/designer, senior associate, Fanning Howey Associates, suggested that “mass customization,” which works with computer-aided manufacturing to produce custom output, will make having some features tailored specifically to a single library’s users’ needs and tastes more affordable in the future. She emphasized the importance of making room for content creation but cautioned against becoming “so future-focused that you don’t invest in current expectations.” She also pointed to the trend toward making the back end of how the library works visible to patrons via things like transparent sections of raised floors or visible automatic sorters. Sweeney noted that, ironically, it can be “[hard] to design a high-end space that shows some of the ‘stage magic’ but not all.”
Taking a broader interpretation of future-focus, one that encompasses the planet and not just the library, solar tubes, storm water for irrigation, and geothermal heating were concepts all raised during the day. (Investing in these ecofriendly technologies may cost more up-front but will save on operating costs, as well as environmental impacts, in the future.) Ortmeyer summed up the essence of a flexible design by saying, “Everything that can be furniture, should be.”
Furnishing the future
Furniture vendors were certainly ready to take up that challenge. In the Product and Furniture Showcase, moderated by Rebecca Miller, editor in chief, School Library Journal, panelists from Spacesaver Corp., Demco Interiors, Tech Logic, TMC Furniture, Brodart Contract Furniture, and AGATI Furniture highlighted trends in library furnishings, which included many different configurations of freestanding banquettes and lifting desks.
The theme of showing the stage magic was repeated—“libraries today want materials handling systems to be more visible to patrons, transparent from book drop to workroom,” Steve Day, sales consultant, Tech Logic, explained, which can be a challenge in legacy buildings. Other trends included a focus on ergonomics in general, and senior citizen-friendly furniture in particular, which is not too deep or low, so patrons can get their feet under them to rise. Tiltable bottom shelves make the lower collection items more visible without stooping, and Lucas Fanning, marketing manager of Brodart, sounded a green note, citing demand for locally sourced lumber and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) chain-of-custody documentation.
The community library
On the Incorporating Community panel, Sari Feldman, CCPL’s executive director, polled architects and fellow librarians on how to give a library local flavor, a discussion that proved, ultimately, to be less about incorporating local construction materials than about how to discover and meet the needs of the patrons who will actually use that library. For example, Feldman’s library focus groups and feedback processes have generated top priorities ranging from cafés to meeting space.
Susan Kotarba, director of public service, Denver Public Library, (DPL) offered the Green Valley Branch of DPL as an example of how local feedback can shape planning within a larger system. The library uses demographic data to determine which of three basic branch styles a community is most suited to—one focused on families, with collocated materials so parents and kids can be in the same space; one focused on language and learning; and the “contemporary” model, which centers on the latest trends, a fast pace, and self-service. But within that, feedback from residents acknowledged Green Valley’s iconic self-image as “the plains and the planes” (from the nearby airport), Kotarba said, and how discovery informed the character and architecture of the building. Wavy aerodynamic shapes hang from the library ceiling, and four sections of the library’s overhanging roof tilt up at a slight angle reminiscent of airplane wings, LJ reported in the Fall 2012 issue of Library by Design (LJ 9/15/12). Abstractions of aerial views of crops are found in the carpets and landscaping, and a Discovery Pod constructed from a 737 cockpit attracts the most attention.
Another theme that emerged was providing community members with background in what other libraries and public buildings are doing, so they have a common architectural palette or vocabulary to use. Otherwise, Richard McCarthy, principal, Dewberry, said, “If you ask what they want, they’ll say the same [as what they have now] but bigger.” Other suggestions included remembering to ask community members what they don’t like or want, as well as what they do, said Daria Pizzetta, partner, H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture. And Peter Bolek, principal, HBM Architects, suggested getting community members involved in planning adjacencies.
Likewise, there was broad agreement for getting the community involved in the ongoing design process, not just the initial brainstorming phase. Successful examples ranged from community members putting pieces of themselves into the design—McCarthy designed time capsules in cornerstones and laminated glass featuring handprints of local kids—to documenting the ongoing progress and (figuratively) inviting the community backstage to watch the construction, whether documented by a local photographer, as Kotarba did with a recent project, or by using automated technology: Pizzetta mounted a camera on a pole and had it photograph the site every 12 hours, so community members could see it take shape over time. Tracy Strobel, CCPL deputy director, added the finishing touch by tying building projects back in to regular, ongoing library services. Cuyahoga built on the interest generated by its ambitious program of building and renovation—which included seven new branches, two groundbreakings, and nine renovations and counting—by making its summer reading theme “construction” (something that also lends itself to common boys’ interest and the nonfiction emphasis of Common Core).
One final fruitful topic was what to do when a substantial subsection of the community doesn’t want a new library at all, because they’re attached to the old one. As an extension of the idea of educating community members on what is possible, Pizzetta recommended bringing community members on a bus tour of a new branch or neighboring library. McCarthy suggested providing a list of all the operations the library would like to encompass but can’t within the existing facility, and Bolek gave a nod to translating the “essence” of the old building into the new, as well as finding a purpose for the old facility so it remains a part of the community.
A challenging choice
Rather than running a second round of challenge breakout sessions, as was done at previous DIs, the architects instead presented a summary of the initial challenge and their brainstorming group’s response to it to the whole audience in the form of a panel, a move that several attendees hailed as taking the pain out of deciding which breakout to attend.
Photos 1, 2, 3, 6, 14, 15, 16, 17 & 18 by Kevin Henegan; all other photos by Michael McElroy/Getty Images
Adrian Public Library MI
ARCHITECT Fanning Howey
THE CHALLENGE Six months after Carol Souchok (top r.) arrived as the director of the Adrian Public Library, structural changes needed to be made to the exterior of the building, or its supporting columns would collapse. After shoring up the crumbling facade of the 50-year-old former JC Penney store, little money was left for interior renovations, but the department store layout, though spacious, is not conducive to the daily activities and staff needs at the library. The outdated lighting is in desperate need of upgrades; staff reductions require a more efficient use of workspace and sight lines. The library hopes to bring the building into the 21st century by addressing these logistical trouble spots while making the space more community oriented.
THE BRAINSTORM Tracy Sweeney from the architecture firm Fanning Howey (top l.) challenged the breakout group to tear down “change barriers” in the library, after they conceptualized the master vision for the space and assessed the challenges of the current design. Then she gave the group two exercises to help them reenvision the space, first changing the space to a black box theater, using layered lighting to highlight and lowlight areas and differentiate spaces. Second, by knocking down the biggest change barrier, the position of the stairwell, the other obstacles began to fall away like dominoes. Once 3-D imaging helped attendees see the space as a blank slate, they split into two groups to reconstruct the interior, drawing out ideas on large, blank floor plans. Group one solved lighting challenges by using spotlights, track lighting, overhead lights, and natural lighting to segment and illuminate the separate distinct spaces and activities in the library. Group two addressed the community and programming needs by moving the stacks and service desk to make more efficient use of the layout and to include comfortable seating near the café and a quiet study space near the back.—Elizabeth J. Allee
Cranberry Public Library PA
ARCHITECT HBM Architects
THE CHALLENGE Cranberry Public Library wants not just a complete overhaul of its particular library, which has already undergone several expansions and renovations, but “a complete overhaul of the concept of library,” which would include shrinking stacks, creating flexible meeting rooms, adding Maker spaces, ditching the Dewey Decimal System, and doing away with desktop computers in favor of laptops and tablets that could be checked out. This new, different kind of library needs to serve a new, different population: the township is one of the fastest growing and changing communities in the country, with a 60 percent population growth since 1990. The population is growing in other ways, too: almost half of all households have children under 18 living at home. Participants were challenged to combine these ambitious new concepts with design elements that hearken back to the area’s rural roots.
THE BRAINSTORM The new lot being considered as a library site used to be a farm and library director Leslie Pallotta told the group she wanted ways to incorporate that history and other local elements (but not the actual color cranberry, which, Pallotta says, local residents feel is somewhat overused). HBM Architects (Dan Meehan, top photo, l., and Peter Bolek, top photo, r.) divided the attendees into two groups and gave them 3-D architectural forms to play with literally to build their vision. One of the farm-echoing concepts would be a modernized glass take on a “silo” anchoring a corner of the building like a clock tower or steeple, at once providing a landmark and, by virtue of transparency, visually “breaking down” the silos that artificially divide patrons and library staff. Other ways to bring the town’s history into the present that were brainstormed include incorporating local slate and recycled barn wood as architectural elements, introducing a water feature that would recall cranberry bogs as well as creating a soothing sense of well-being, and even (since the library is still in the “dreaming phase”) adding a library pony/petting zoo.—Meredith Schwartz
Guelph Public Library Ontario, Canada
THE CHALLENGE Guelph wants to reenvision its main library as a component of a 90,000 square foot community hub, a public/private partnership (P3) mixed-use development costing $54 million that must be high functioning and “greener than green.” The design should be forward-thinking and imaginative yet include the iconic Carnegie dome and pillars from the old library and showcase a life-sized sculpture of Elizabeth, heroine of Robert Munch’s The Paper Bag Princess.
THE BRAINSTORM Dewberry principal Rick McCarthy (top r.) led participants in an exercise to determine what people feel are the most important things to have/keep/do in the new library. Pictures were spread out representing things people often think are important in a new library, with each attendee (including Guelph CEO Kitty Pope, left photo l.) given stickers to place on the things they thought were the most important; children’s activity space, computer area, sustainable design, café, and young adult area received the most votes.
To address sustainable design, McCarthy emphasized the importance of making green a priority from the beginning of the design process, since it impacts placement and budget. He suggested the library team up with the local agricultural college to put in hydroponic columns with plants growing up them. With history so important to the community, in addition to retaining literal pieces of the former design, McCarthy suggested adding large screens around the library where old documents and images from local history digital archives could be displayed. Children’s spaces should feature numerous small, dynamic spaces, the group decided, and the library could share not only mechanicals but large meeting rooms with other tenants.—Leslie Jones & Meredith Schwartz
Raleigh County Public Library WV
ARCHITECT H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture LLC
THE CHALLENGE Renovate and expand a small branch into a dynamic, family-oriented library that takes learning seriously but where it is understood that learning comes from play. Incorporate into the plan technology and the landscape and historical feel of West Virginia while going Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) green. Figure out how to connect spaces to free teens while keeping an eye on them. And, ultimately, update the look and feel without getting so trendy that the new design itself gets dated. Director Amy Lilly (top right photo), who was a middle school librarian in Washington, DC, before arriving in this community in the heart of Appalachia, is focused on fun learning that delivers new potential to these kids in need. “My goal is to get the community to realize that kids learn by doing things,” she said.
“I want to give these kids a future.”
THE BRAINSTORM Skyping into Ohio from New York, H3’s Margaret Sullivan worked with partner Daria Pizzetta (top l.) on-site to explore some of the thinking behind an envisioned space that hews to the goals while truly celebrating invention. A colorful model presented a dynamic, surprising space that supports hands-on engagement with tech devices, books, and the natural environment. Displays of collections of sticks, rocks, and more reinforce scientific impulses, riff on the very concept of “collections,” and tap into the need for children to touch things as they learn. A covered porch on one end opens to views of the landscape and the nearby middle school (building a trail between the two is on the table) but also serves as a sort of Maker space that can get washed down after a science project or two, or a programming space where, as Director Lilly notes, “a lot of eating could be going on!” Breakout participants also got creative, suggesting co-seating and varied seating options to encourage levels of interaction by age or in family groups, solar shading, big tables for quilting, the use of artifacts from the area’s mining history, and, yes, even a butterfly garden. An artistic touch from H3: a rotating projection of images of the natural environment inside to help reinforce the inside-outside connection.—Rebecca Miller
Toledo-Lucas County Public Library OH
ARCHITECT Bostwick Design Partnership
THE CHALLENGE The Toledo–Lucas County Public Library needs to combine a new branch library; room for five bookmobiles; and secure, climate-controlled storage for archived collection materials into a single building, with separate driveways, access, and parking for each use. The library has obtained a site that is near a public school and a well-trafficked road and contains mature trees, at least some of which should be preserved.
THE BRAINSTORM Participants broke out into three groups and tried to lay out and identify design needs using color-coded blocks of differing sizes to represent unique elements of space, such as individual building functions. Key solutions involved drawing on synergies among the three disparate operations of the building, for example, reducing the space devoted to outreach collections and letting the bookmobiles instead draw on the branch/system collection for their titles. The group also decided to locate archival storage adjacent to the branch space, so that it could grow into the archive if needed. Participants considered as well stacking the parking and storage functions to double the impact of a limited footprint.—Ian Singer & Meredith Schwartz
Bostwick Design Partnership
Richard L. Ortmeyer AIA LEED AP, Principal
Denelle C. Wrightson, Director,
Tracy Sweeney, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BC+C,
Project Architect/Designer, Senior Associate
H3 Hardy Collaboration
Daria Pizzetta, Partner
Dan Meehan, AIA,
LEED AP, Principal
Downs and Associates
DEMCO Library Interiors
Director, Business Development
Lyngsoe Library Systems
Corey McCoy, Director
Milissa Rick, Director of Corporate Marketing;
Mike Heitzman, Engineering Consultant
Spike Oliver, Marketing & Sales
Cuyahoga County Public Library
Sari Feldman, Executive Director