March 21, 2018

New Landmark Libraries 2012 #5: Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons, Seattle University

Library and Learning Transformed

Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons | Seattle University
Architect: Pfeiffer Partners Architects, Inc.


Major expansion
Main library
SIZE 125,640 square feet
Cost $55 million
Student Pop 7,755

When Seattle University leadership took on its largest single capital project—expanding the campus library to encompass a learning commons and create a campus hub—it created a landmark knowledge resource for the future that engages and inspires students today.

The goal was to create a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Gold environment that provided a collaborative, stimulating experience for users. Inside, students would find quiet and active spaces; an array of artwork (including works by Henry Matisse); computer labs; book, journal, media, and special collections; the university’s first media production center; smart classrooms; and academic support services like the writing center, research consultation, math lab, and tutoring and study assistance. Outside, students would be drawn to equally compelling spaces for socializing, studying, and ­exploring.

One judge had this to say: “This project is replete with superb spaces. While the details are well conceived, they are not overwrought. The conflation of architecture, landscape, and art makes for a beautifully sinuous project.” Mithun was associate architect for the project.

A complicated task

Still, it wasn’t easy to accomplish. A complicated ten-year project grew the original 1966 library by 33,000 square feet without losing what stakeholders loved the most—the original veined white marble façade and double helix staircase that integrated a plethora of services into one facility and created linkages to nearby buildings while retaining habitual pathways.

The white marble façade was retained as an interior wall and made visible by glass curtain walls on the exterior. The staircase facelift is an ode to mid­century design. Dropped was the ideal notion of a single entrance/exit in favor of five entrances with door controls and monitoring for maximum convenience. Gained was a “learning commons partnership” to coordinate services in the multifunctional facility. The result is a stunningly transparent and airy library and learning commons at the crossroads of the campus.

Green expectations

Students and all stakeholders were united in their expectation that the building be built and operated green. Going for LEED Gold certification was an easy choice and meant the reuse of the existing building and some furnishings; operation of energy-efficient systems and lighting; strategic harvesting of daylight; glass curtainwalls with special frit and UV coatings; low-emitting materials and furnishings; and the capture of 100 percent of the building’s storm water runoff for use in water features and the landscape.

The site’s slope dictated a step-down approach to a three-story addition. That strategy resulted in an addition that is appropriately scaled for pedestrian movement through the campus core. But now people stop to rest, read, or socialize in the new plaza, terraced amphitheater, meditation lawn, rain garden, and bioswale. Like a town square, these exterior spaces are a campus destination.

Creating gathering and contemplative spaces both indoors and out came as no surprise. From the get-go, planners stepped beyond standard programmatic needs and sought new opportunities. Many conversations with stakeholders shaped the direction, including two summer retreats by campus leadership. Soliciting input was taken seriously at all levels. The whole campus was invited to test seating options; students were queried via focus groups on size, layout, and furnishings; and the deans were invited to explore their need for a technology-rich classroom, which became the now-sought-after Boeing Room.

Educating the whole person

Flexibility is a key organizing principle of this project. Staff work areas are outfitted with reconfigurable desk systems. All furnishings were selected to be durable, mobile, cleanable, and easily maintained. Raised floors throughout the addition contain data, electricals, and HVAC vents enabling future reconfigurations. Around-the-clock services are provided in an expandable zone that extends across most of two floors of the addition. Containment is handled by drop-down security gates and security via ID card access.

Internally, placement of services through the six-floor building is maximized for easy access. The Boeing Room is on the lowest level to accommodate events that occur outside of regular hours. The second floor contains the aforementioned partnership services and private cubicles for client meetings; an “iDesk” staffed during regular building hours; a café; and several classrooms with laptop and charging stations. Traditional book and journal stacks are on the upper floors, with special collections on the top floor. Help desks are located in major traffic areas, computer labs that support individual and group work are on two floors, and roaming reference librarians are available via iPhone. Over 950 seats and 200 computers are available for visitors.

By deciding to ponder deeply and question what a library is, Seattle University artfully crafted a library experience that matches its 21st-century focus on educating the “whole person…for a just and humane world.”

Louise Schaper About Louise Schaper

Louise Schaper (, retired Executive Director of Fayetteville Public Library, AR, is a Library Consultant and LJ's New Landmark Libraries project lead.

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