Innovative library designs around the country are adding kitchens, the next (and original) Maker spaces
It’s not news to anyone who follows library design that the mission is expanding from one of providing room for reading and research to a more complex, community-driven model that serves as a hub for a much broader range of activities. Hospitality-influenced amenities already permeate newer libraries and renovations in the form of lounges, cafés, and multipurpose event spaces. Now, some (literally) cutting-edge libraries are taking it a step further, adding kitchens for demonstrations and patron use.
Mike Zuehlke, an architect at Engberg Anderson (see Meadowridge Branch Library), says, “Food is one of those things that we all share—across cultures, races, economic, or educational level. Few things promote gathering and interaction as well as a shared meal.”
While a kitchen in the library may seem a surprise or a luxury, these trendsetting buildings are using their new kitchen facilities to help patrons connect to their community, learn more about healthy living, feed their families better, express their creativity, and even make a little much-needed money—all core to the library mission.
Meadowridge Branch Library
and Meadowood Neighborhood Center
Madison’s Meadowridge Public Library occupies one end of a strip mall, right next door to the existing Meadowood Neighborhood Center; on the other end of the strip sits a now-closed Ace Hardware store. But thanks to $2.4 million in city funding, exciting changes are under way for this site. In musical chairs fashion, the library will move into the Ace space, proving much needed extra area; the neighborhood center will shift into the former library; and a new, shared zone—featuring a community kitchen to be used by both entities—will reside in between, becoming the literal and figurative hearth of the project.
“Kitchens fall neatly into the [Meadowridge] library’s mission of supporting community interests. Like other library spaces, kitchens are places to be informed, entertained, to learn by doing and observing, and all of this in a collaborative, social setting,” says Mike Zuehlke of Engberg Anderson, the architects of the currently under-construction Meadowridge and Meadowood project.
Given that both community and library programs will operate from the kitchen, the project team set out to design a multipurpose—and therefore flexible—facility. Comprising 395 square feet, it will incorporate commercial-grade appliances and a pair of movable worktables that can shift from use to use, whether for food prep, serving, or cooking-class demos.
The proposed finishes will address functional as well as aesthetic needs. “We wanted to maintain the balance between a commercial kitchen and more of a traditional ‘homelike’ feel,” explains Zuehlke. Stainless steel will be used in some areas, but warmer materials, such as solid surfacing, wood, and ceramic tile, will appear in the more public parts. Separating the kitchen from the adjacent community room will be a roll-down door that will open when programming, such as cooking classes, calls for it. And kitchen cameras broadcasting to wall-mounted video screens will come into play for larger gatherings.
Among some of the uses planned for the kitchen and community room, slated for a 2015 opening, is a new program called the Good Snack Club, which will invite kids during the school year to plan, make, and eat healthy afternoon snacks. Discussion is ongoing with a local community college’s culinary program to provide cooking demonstrations. And community potlucks, which became popular but unsustainable, will find a new home at Meadowridge and Meadowood.
“The meals got moved around in the community depending on availability of an adequate space, so the addition of community space next to the kitchen will provide a reliable location for them,” says Greg Mickells, director of Madison Public Library. “The gatherings have also become important for discussing community issues and sharing information.”
Bringing everything full circle and reinforcing the connection to food, artist Victor Castro will compose a sculpture out of empty Tetra Pak boxes—cartons typically used for soup and shelf-stable milk, among other liquid foods—contributed by neighborhood residents, to stand on the walkway of the library.
Rosa F. Keller Library & Community Center
“Libraries are less about being places to study and read and more about providing for social and educational needs,” says Kurt Hagstette, AIA, principal at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple (EDR), the architecture firm that reinvigorated this New Orleans library branch, devastated in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina.
The Rosa F. Keller Library & Community Center consists of two adjoined buildings: a 1917 bungalow that underwent restoration and extensive upgrades following the storm and a new building that replaced a 1990s addition that was deemed unsalvageable after the flooding. While the modern structure, completed in 2012, houses the library stacks, reading rooms, and research zones, the historic former residence—connected via a common entry vestibule and spine—is home to the community center, comprising a variety of meeting spaces and the kitchen.
The latter serves as a food-prep and pantry area for catered events at the library, as well as a classroom for healthy cooking programs. Within the existing kitchen’s tight footprint of 260 square feet, EDR optimized the space with a cooking island and essential appliances, with enough room left over for adult and children attendees of classes, such as a recent five-week course for six- to 12-year-olds offered by the Tulane School of Culinary Medicine.
Custom neutral-toned millwork and a rectangular island, both composed of MDF core and laminate, replaced dark cabinetry and an awkward L-shaped counter, visually opening up and brightening the space. Outdated equipment was upgraded to stainless steel appliances, from a new Viking range hood above the island’s Whirlpool gas cooktop to Crosley refrigerators. For finishing touches, the project team installed light-gray ceramic tiles on the floors, refurbished the original historic casement windows, and applied fresh coats of paint on the walls and window frames. Save for the exhaust hood above the range and a fire extinguishing system, the Keller kitchen came into existence with few logistical hurdles, as the rest of the library is equipped with sprinkler, fire detection, and alarm systems.
John Marc Sharpe, director of marketing and communications for the New Orleans Public Library, told LJ, “We love our food in New Orleans, and as the plans for the location were finalized, the idea of a food prep/catering kitchen evolved into an open kitchen that could be used for cooking classes and cooking demonstrations…. The next great New Orleans chef may be learning in that kitchen and that’s fun to think about. The kitchen is in near continuous use.”
Round Valley Public Library
In an underserved, rural California county comprising a small town, ranch land, and an Indian reservation, community members came together to create their own library—from fundraising to purchase a 7,200 square foot structure down to initiating the design details. The Round Valley Public Library in Covelo opened its doors in 2010 of offer not only books but also the Commons, a community center with rentable Wi-Fi-enabled space, a retail coffee shop, and a covered patio. By 2012, the Commons gained a commercial-grade kitchen.
Although the building housing Round Valley was formerly a restaurant, its kitchen needed upgrades. “The layout of the kitchen went through a committee and community input meeting,” says Diann Simmons, former vice president and grant writer for the Friends of the Round Valley Public Library. “Finally, I sat down with everything and laid it out, and a volunteer contractor reviewed it all to make sure thelineup of the plumbing was as efficient as possible.”
The equipment, situated along the perimeter of the 500 square foot room, includes multiple sinks and stainless steel prep areas along with refrigerators, a gas range, and a convection oven. Standard food-service Italian quarry tiles cover the floors as they are economical but also workhorses for high traffic and spills. And a worktable at the center is actually a butcher block–topped mobile cart that can be easily repositioned for catering needs, or clearing enough floor space to accommodate group classes common to the library.
Yet the kitchen does far more than service the library’s coffee shop, events taking place in the Commons, and classes—it helps sustain the county residents, from small businesses to low-income families.
“During the summer and fall, when local produce is abundant, there is usually someone canning here at least twice a week,” says Isabelle LeMieux, the Commons manager. “Anyone can rent the space to can or cook whatever they want.” Canners may take home their goods to feed their families, or sell them through the coffee shop. Citing two businesses that rent the space to make products to sell off-site, LeMieux adds, “In California, food that is prepared in a certified commercial kitchen can be sold elsewhere. Our facility allows local businesses to thrive because they can produce food here at low overhead cost.”
Finally, lockable storage units allow the kitchen to function as a local distribution site for low-income families to collect from the state-run Food Pantry.
New Central Library
When asked about the connection between Austin’s upcoming New Central Library and food, the library’s facilities processing manager, John Gillum, explains, “Our director, Brenda Branch, said we’re all becoming foodies, and she’s right. One of the most popular things we get requests for is that our growing body of local, world-renowned chefs come to the library and talk about their new cookbooks.” He adds, “And people would say ‘it would be great for them to cook for us!’ ”
The six-story building, set to open in 2016, was designed collaboratively by local firm Lake | Flato Architects and Boston’s Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott. An architecture and design practice already well versed in libraries, Shepley Bulfinch points out that it had previously worked on a public library in Eugene, OR, that included a café.
“As the role of the library is expanding to become a city’s gathering and convening place, it’s embracing nontraditional functions like kitchens, cafés, Maker spaces, and exhibit, gallery, and event spaces,” comments Sid Bowen, AIA, managing principal of Shepley Bulfinch. “The kitchen element reinforces the library’s important civic role.”
Located off of one of the library’s entrances, a six-story atrium overlooking Shoal Creek will hold a multipurpose event space that will incorporate the kitchen. Really a two-part feature, the kitchen will consist of both built-in and mobile units that tuck away when not in use, a solution devised by the project teams to keep the equipment from dominating the space’s ambiance when noncooking programs are in play. This strategy was also a way to maximize space: when fully opened and in use, the kitchen takes up a footprint of about 90 square feet; packed away, it encompasses only 48.
Sliding barn doors will open to reveal the built-in elements, ranging from a sink and pot storage to double ovens and a refrigerator, with finishes including stainless and blackened steel. Meanwhile, the mobile island will house all the “extroverted” items—cutting board, cooler drawer, cooktop, and plating area—as the cart will face an audience seated in the space’s bleachers. Because the design teams anticipate that some of the cooking events will be shown on-screen, they selected light-colored, solid surfaces for the cart’s countertop for good color rendering on TV.
Tween-aged kids are the cooks in a library in Stockholm. “The kitchen fills the same purpose in our library as it does at home—it is a place to sit down together, do homework, eat an afternoon snack, and share stories,” says Amanda Stenberg, one of the librarians who staff the tweens-only TioTretton. (For more on the unusual institution, see “Stockholm’s TioTretton Library Gives Tweens a Space of Their Own,” from the Fall 2013 issue of LBD.) Stenberg continues, “Cooking is also a way to create stories through experimenting with flavors and ingredients.” The ability to experiment without there being a single right answer is particularly important to this age group, according to Stenberg. The kitchen, which also houses the library’s cooking-related collection, also helps fulfill architect Ricardo Ortiz’s vision of a “library for all senses.”
Carved from within the 1,200 square foot library, which was completed in 2011, the generously proportioned, 323 square foot open kitchen is tastefully finished with a white subway-tile backsplash, wood cabinetry, and stainless steel elements. At its center is a spacious wood-topped dining table, with stools tucked underneath.
Additionally functioning as a worktop, the table features open storage shelves in its base, while panels in its top open to reveal power outlets for plugging in portable electric burners. Tweens can also bake using ovens installed in a wall beside the cabinetry. Overhead, suspended pot racks hold various utensils such as whisks, graters, and spatulas. And when not in use for cooking or eating, the kitchen’s multipurpose table hosts all manner of workshops, from music making to arts and crafts.