February 17, 2018

Year in Architecture 2014: Commons Sense

Architecture 2014

The library construction projects completed between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014, seem to have found common purpose around a common theme: community. As such, many of the 16 academic projects and 84 public library capital efforts find themselves at the center of their respective neighborhoods. Whether large or small, on an expansive budget or a shoestring, these facilities strengthen ties among their constituencies and between learning and entertainment.

Overview Architects
Academic Libraries Public Libraries Six-Year Summary
Architecture 2014 - ImageGalleries

Rising Expectations Missions Possible Above and Beyond Elegant Eclecticism Know Much About History East and West and Everything in Between Open to the Elements Beaming with Pride

This is an expanded version of the Architecture Issue that appeared in print November 15, 2014.

Opener image: Downtown Branch, Cedar Rapids Public Library, IA. Architect: OPN Architects; photo by Wayne Johnson, Main Street Photography

The library construction projects completed between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014, seem to have found common purpose around a common theme: community. As such, many of the 16 academic projects and 84 public library capital efforts find themselves at the center of their respective neighborhoods. Whether large or small, on an expansive budget or a shoestring, these facilities strengthen ties among their constituencies and between learning and entertainment.

The new Frederick E. Berry Library and Learning Commons at Salem State University, MA, reinforces its sense of openness and transparency through a pleated glass wall on the north façade that draws students inside. The Pierce College Library Learning Crossroads Building, Woodland Hills, CA, integrates learning and social interaction, combining a food court, the library, a tutoring center, a computer commons, and the Students Success Center. Oxnard College Library Learning Resource Center, CA, is based around hub and spoke architecture and a network of pathways that act as a pivot for campus connectivity.

Located in Rock Island, IL, Augustana College’s Center for Student Life brings under one roof the Thomas Tredway Library, a student center, and the college dining center. American Jewish University, Bel Air, CA, converted an underused driveway and parking garage to expand the Bel and Jack Ostrow Library, a joint resource open both to the community and to scholarly research.

The mother of all communal projects is the new Tidewater Community College/City of Virginia Beach Joint-Use Library. With a village-inspired motif, the 125,000 square foot facility features meeting rooms, a multipurpose room, a café, an open commons area, a computer lab, study spaces, a children’s section, and a teen zone.

Parks and yards

The North Beach Branch of the San Francisco Public Library is the first phase of the Joe DiMaggio Playground and North Beach Public Library Master Plan, a civic pavilion in the park that responds to the “rhythm of the buildings on the street.” The Pico Branch of California’s Santa Monica Public Library is located in the 9.5-acre Virginia Avenue Park. The campus-like setting includes the branch library and its freestanding Annex, an 818 square foot community room; a community center; a teen center; a recreational facility; and a general-purpose meeting space. Prairie West Branch of Siouxland Libraries, Sioux Falls, SD, was built on the edge of a park, echoed by its blue and green interior.

Hennepin County Library—Walker sits at one of the busiest intersections in Minneapolis, next to a city park and near a transit center and biking trails. The Arlington Hills Community Center, MN, is a combined library and recreation center. A noteworthy joint program is the Createch Studio, a teen-oriented tech lab. The complex encompasses a full-court gym and a fitness room, along with athletic fields and a plaza for public performances. The Fort Myers Regional Library campus, FL, comprises the Fort Myers Regional Library, the Talking Books Library/meeting rooms/conference center, and an expansive outdoor plaza designed for concerts, bazaars, farmers markets, youth activities, outdoor movie nights, art festivals, food festivals, craft fairs, and parking.

Built in conjunction with the Back of the Yards College Preparatory High School, the Back of the Yards Branch of the Chicago Public Library serves all levels of the community through STEM-based programs for youngsters and teens and, for adults, book discussions, financial planning seminars, and CyberNavigator technology assistance. An abandoned 7,778 square foot elementary school was transformed into the Rio Linda Branch, Sacramento Public Library, CA, doubling the branch’s space and providing a children’s area, a teen room, an adult browsing area, and 22 public access ­computers.

The diversity of the neighborhood of the East Boston Branch of the Boston Public Library is celebrated by stone pavers on the exterior that show the name of and distance to the capital cities of the top 21 countries of origin of the residents of East Boston.

The Embudo Valley Library and Community Center is a nonprofit public library located in an unincorporated village. The nearly $708,000 project was supported entirely through donations and grants. The Hollidaysburg Area Public Library, PA, encompasses an outdoor patio and amphitheater, as well as a 12′ gazebo (under construction). A kitchen is adjacent to the 100-seat community room. The Armed Forces Room houses a coffee bar and plaque recognizing local veterans.

Making it part of the experience

Arizona’s Mesa Public Library Red Mountain Branch Library THINKspot is a collaborative Maker space featuring an AV and photography studio and the latest technology (3-D printer, SMARTboards, conferencing systems, etc.), with mobile furnishings to encourage collaboration. The Brand Library and Art Center, a branch of the Glendale Library, Arts & Culture Department, CA, is housed in a 1904 mansion. The materials collection and the site’s accompanying recital hall, art gallery, and performance plaza make the library both a research center and a lively arts venue.

The Fort York Branch, Toronto Public Library, offers the system’s first branch digital innovation hub. The Savage Branch/STEM Education Center, Howard County Library System, Laurel, MD, includes a HiTech Classroom in which students create robotic projects and apps. The remodeled Library 21c, the main and system headquarters of Pikes Peak Library District, Colorado Springs, presents a business and entrepreneurial center, conference space, print/copy services, and an AV production studio, plus a café/catering services, a 400-seat performance/meeting venue, two Maker spaces, two gaming labs, and an exhibit gallery (see “The Library of the Century,” LJ 10/15/14, p. 21).

The Ames Free Library, MA, turned the 1854 Queset House into a 21st-century learning commons. Its first Author- in-Residence, Kate Klise, wrote, “The[se] clever folks…bought this ridiculously pretty house…and turned it into a, well, community clubhouse of sorts…. a place for people of all ages to meet that’s not school or home or work. Or Starbucks.”

The Barrington Area Library, IL, redefines its connection to the community through smart rooms, media labs, Maker spaces, a business center, an Internet café, and a reading commons. The Niles Public Library, IL, created on the lower level a teen space called the Underground, providing an informal lounge area for this important constituency. The Ridgefield Library, CT, turned a restored 1903 historic building and new construction into a teen center, a technology center, and study and meeting rooms that function as part of a cultural campus with a recently renovated movie theater.

The Bibliothèque de Brossard Georgette-Lepage, Quebec, tore down a wall between two basement storage rooms to create a large room the youth contingent calls SODA, with zones for working, reading, socializing, and relaxing.

The Kenton County Public Library Covington Branch, KY, is the new civic hub in the city’s downtown. An atrium visually connects interior to exterior and all three floors of the building to one another. A large clerestory window brings needed light to the main level reading and study area.

Out-Carnegie-ing Carnegie

The Washington Heights Branch of the New York Public Library revived its 1914 Renaissance Revival Carnegie building, using 3,600 square feet of the second floor for a children’s reading room. The 1918 Carnegie-built Athol Library, MA, is in one of the most economically depressed towns in the state, yet residents supported the economic, social, and environmental benefits of a Platinum-level Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED)–certified restoration.

The West Tisbury Free Public Library, MA, created an inviting front porch and gardens that provide outdoor seating. The high-ceilinged lower level of the East Hampton Library, NY, features the state-of-the-art Baldwin Family Lecture Room, with space for programs, meetings, film screenings, readings, lectures, and book events.

The Arlington Branch of the Cranston Public Library, RI, was renovated within the Cranston Senior Center. A lobby space serves seniors and is also a study spot for neighborhood teens. The remodeled Madison Public Library, WI, includes an art gallery, public meeting rooms, and an outdoor terrace that overlooks the green roof. The third-floor commons can be rented for private events.

Three emotional recovery efforts were featured in LJ’s Fall 2014 Library by Design supplement (ow.ly/DzSmm): Cedar Rapids Public Library, IA, destroyed in a 2008 flood; the Pratt City Library, Birmingham, AL, victim of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina; and the Coney Island branch of Brooklyn Public Library, damaged by 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.

Inventive, creative, environmentally respectful, forward-thinking—each of this year’s projects shares an underlying principle: to serve best the communities that support them. They have done so with uncommonly awe-inspiring ­results.

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

Bette-Lee Fox About Bette-Lee Fox

Bette-Lee Fox (blfox@mediasourceinc.com) is Managing Editor, Library Journal.

Celebrating her 46th year with Library Journal, Bette-Lee also edits LJ’s Video Reviews column, six times a year Romance column, and e-original Romance reviews, which post weekly as LJ Xpress Reviews.



  1. Gary Klockenga says:

    Just curious: why isn’t there any mention of the new San Diego Central Library (a major urban library) in this article? Thanks.

    • Bette-Lee Fox says:

      Hello, Gary,

      Thank you for mentioning the new San Diego Library; it does look beautiful. Library Journal reaches out to libraries nationwide about completed building efforts through emails and notices in our publications (print and online). We ask them to submit a form with details of the construction along with photos. We hope to include every library we can; unfortunately, San Diego never submitted information on the project.

  2. Jana White says:

    Hi Betty-Lee,

    Will you be requesting information this year for projects completed between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015? We just completed a great library project that transformed an abandoned shopping center into a library. It was completed in January 2015 and opened to the public February 28th in a rural community in Arizona. Since the library was completed after 2014, we do not qualify to apply for the Library Journal’s current New Landmark Library Award series. The library project is such an amazing project and usage is off the charts, that I would love the opportunity to share with other cities and towns that may have a similar situation.

    Thank you in advance for any information you can share :)

    Have a great day,


    Jana White, MLS
    Library Manager

    Community Services Department
    Library Division
    Cotoye Branch – Administrative
    21699 W. Yuma Road, Suite 116
    Buckeye , Arizona 85326
    P: 623-349-6321 /C: 623-256-1942

    Visit us at http://www.buckeyeaz.gov/library

    Be sure to ‘Like’ us on Facebook at Buckeye Public Library & Buckeye Valley Museum