April 24, 2018

Building Smart: LJ’s Design Institute Inspires Spaces for the Future | Library by Design, Spring 2012

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

If you want to learn about great library design, step into Phoenix’s Burton Barr Central Library. That was apparent to the participants in LJ’s daylong Design Institute, held there November 11, 2011.

As they explored the stunning five-story icon, opened in 1995 and designed by bruderDWL architects, attendees found the perfect complement to the ideas that came out of the day. And did those ideas flow! 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:  Design Institute: Six Space Challenges from Six Libraries).

Building for change

As the culture, and budgets, shift quickly, so do service models. A big pressure, said Bruce Flynn, principal at Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture, is the rise of mobile. “The challenge,” he said, “will be to keep up with technological change in a fluid way.”

But the buildings, all agreed, can’t be expensive to change with the tides. So, talk turned to partitions. To create a sense of a room within a larger space, said Louise Schaper, project leader on LJ’s New Landmark Libraries and former executive director of the Fayetteville Public Library, AR, boundaries can be created with temporary walls made from fabric or by hanging strips of plastic or other material.

Sometimes, though, it’s not about dividing space; it’s about where you put people who need and want to do things together, including the growing senior population.

Creating “adjacencies” that support cross-­generational use, is increasingly important, noted Joe Huberty, partner at Engberg Anderson. That connectivity can enhance play, even for adults. “Let’s be the place everyone wants to be and hang out,” said Huberty.

“Everyone relates to having an experience,” said ­Flynn. In the academic arena, said Dan Meehan, principal at HBM Architecture, that trend is reflected in a move “from a collection-based space toward a collective, resource-based gathering space.”

Eye on the next generation

Just such dynamic, collaborative space is modeled in Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia teen space at the Harold Washington Library Center. “The vision supports collaborative space and individual space,” said Amy Eshleman, then coleader of YOUmedia and now program leader for education at the Urban Libraries Council, where she is in charge of grants to replicate the YOUmedia model in other libraries. The space itself is in one room, she said, which is challenging because of noise but successful because the kids can see one another—“that it was designed as a big open space is really important,” she said. There kids also create stories in many media formats. This reflects content-driven changes, “from consuming to creating,” said Tony Rohr, GouldEvans national managing principal.

With this in mind, librarians “need to plan for space that is not programmed,” said Denelle Wrightson, Dewberry’s director of library architecture, “and build in budget for changing the program.”

Letting the work patrons want to doshape the library program, and the space design, is perhaps the ultimate recognition of whom libraries serve. That means librarians have to learn more about their patrons and what they want; both data and observation can help. “When you plan a college campus,” said Dennis Humphries, principal at Humphries Poli ­Architects, “you don’t put down paths. Instead, you let people walk and then put down paths.”

Other trends explored throughout the day included the need to supply enough power via raised floors or, as is the case in the Barr Library, by bringing the power source down from the ceiling. Also noted was the rise of USB power towers, increasingly common in large airports. And bigger picture: look to other industries for ideas and pull in expertise from uncommon sources to innovate on projects.

Design Institute Slideshow

Photos by Mark Peterman/Getty Images and Kevin Henegan

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

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