August 19, 2017

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Odegaard Undergraduate Library | New Landmark Libraries 2016 Winner

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Inside a New Box

University of Washington | Seattle
ARCHITECT: Miller Hull Partnership

Through careful programming and design strategies to preserve the essence of the original building, the 2013 renovation of the Odegaard Under­graduate Library at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle not only meets the demand for active learning environments on campus but further catalyses it. The renovation transformed the interior from dark, decentralized, and difficult to navigate to a light-filled hub of activity and stimulus for pedagogical change. Architecture firm Miller Hull Partnership optimized functionality in the existing footprint after discovering that only 55.5 percent of the interior was used in the initial design. The resulting renovation doubled the amount of student work space and eliminated the need to add onto the building, thus saving 285 metric tons of carbon in potential new construction costs.

The design team removed the main atrium stair to reclaim some of the space they uncovered (equivalent to a total of 36 UW dorm rooms). Via a smaller stair, the first floor opens up to a variety of new activities (including a new Writing and Research Center, which blends writing and library research support services), highlighted by light and transparency. It’s now a crossroads of campus life, fostering cross-departmental collaboration.

Innovative “data diners” take advantage of the Brutalist alcove spaces to yield new uses based on 21st-century research needs. Express computer/printer stations create hot spots across the ground floor.

FILLING THE FOOTPRINT The University of Washington nearly  doubled usable space without an addition. Inset: the Brutalist exterior.  Exterior photo courtesy of University Of Washington; interior photo By Lara Swimmer

FILLING THE FOOTPRINT The University of Washington nearly
doubled usable space without an addition. Inset: the Brutalist exterior.
Exterior photo courtesy of University Of Washington;
interior photo By Lara Swimmer

To address low lighting in the original design, the three-story atrium is now topped with a skylight that increases the amount of natural light in the interior by 400 percent and, with energy-efficient lighting, increases energy savings by 51.5 percent over the 2007 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers standards.

The original red oak guardrail that wrapped the atrium was also creatively reimagined. The rail’s stain had yellowed over time, contributing to the dated feel of the building. Rather than scrap the rail, the design team transformed it. While appearing complex, the new three-dimensional “wave” pattern incorporates the original railing (reshaped and stained white) into its construction and connects intended function to contemporary utility.

Classroom transformed

A research partnership between the design team and UW instruction researchers yielded a new classroom design in the library, which has set a successful precedent for classroom construction projects across the campus. However, any extra classroom space in the library had to be created without decreasing existing study spaces to serve the campus student population of 44,786. Miller Hull rose to the challenge. The firm designed learning spaces that can shift between informal and formal learning: needs-based classrooms designed to operate 24-7. Sliding glass partitions and movable furniture enable the rooms to convert to study use when there are no classes. There are no fixed teaching stations; students sit in pods to collaborate in groups while the instructor moves through the room.

(l.-r.): Lighting enhances multilevel study areas;  and active learning classrooms feature  circular learning “pods” and group-ready booths. Photos By Lara Swimmer

(l.-r.): Lighting enhances multilevel study areas; and active learning classrooms feature
circular learning “pods” and group-ready booths. Photos By Lara Swimmer

New spaces embedded throughout the building support learning behaviors based on discovery, consultation, proto­typing, and production. They are color-coded, reinforcing wayfinding and signaling intended use. Collaboration booths replace individual study carrels, and interactive walls serve to display collections and enable student discussion and critique. The library now takes on different personalities throughout the day.

Researchers have assessed building and resource use since the building reopened.

Design projects like this one prove that libraries of the 21st century can simultaneously respect historical precedent and reenvision their services, spaces, and resources to serve contemporary and future academic activity. By blending the original functionality and aesthetic with the opportunity to establish a 21st-century library that enables collaboration, research, and the use of a variety of technologies, the Odegaard Library is an outstanding example of creativity within constraints.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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Design Institute Heads to Washington!
On Friday, October 20, in partnership with Fort Vancouver Regional Library—at its award-winning Vancouver Community Library (WA)—the newest installment of Library Journal’s building and design event will provide ideas and inspiration for renovating, retrofitting, or re-building your library, no matter your budget!
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