February 20, 2018

Bayview Linda Brooks-Burton Branch Library | New Landmark Libraries 2015 Winner


Organic Design

Bayview Linda Brooks-Burton Branch Library | San Francisco Public Library
ARCHITECT: THA Architecture (with Karin Payson architecture + design)


OPENED: 2013
COST: About $9.5 million
LEED Gold certified

Reflecting the trend of flexible, mixed-use development shaping its own neighborhood, the Bayview Linda Brooks-Burton Branch of the San Francisco Public Library is a stunning example of how a library can honor a community’s history while laying out a path for its continued growth.

The former home of San Francisco’s shipbuilding industry, the neighborhoods of Bayview–Hunters Point are a population center for the city’s African American community. After extensive consultation with community members, the planning team chose to replace the branch with completely new construction rather than update the anonymous brick slab that was the former building. These community inter­actions revealed a deep-seated desire to engage the neighborhood both inside and outside the structure.

The neighborhood’s cultural heritage is a major design element of the branch. Earth-toned linoleum tiles provide a dash of color to the building’s exterior, laid out in a pattern reminiscent of traditional Kente cloth. The interior courtyard is made with stone pavers marked with West African Adinkra symbols, donated by a local foundation. These exterior features call attention to the branch from the street, encouraging foot traffic from nearby public transit stops.


The interior provides a welcoming environment to all who visit. Movable walls open up programming space to the children’s area, or close it off for community meetings. Distinct spaces for adults, teens, and children allow each age group to feel comfortable, bringing in acceptable levels of activity to each without disrupting the others. Local neighborhood groups and schools make regular visits to the branch for library instruction, including book talks and mentoring.

This same sense of balance pervades the building’s LEED Gold–certified green features, which employ passive elements to lessen the branch’s environmental impact while keeping construction costs down. A green roof and solar cells help regulate temperatures and offset electricity costs. Clerestory windows line the roof, bringing in additional natural light while natural and mechanical ventilation systems provide fresh air and reduce energy use. An LCD screen serves to document the space’s energy use, prompting further discussions about sustainable design.

The literal centerpiece of the branch setting is an interior courtyard. Its spare design features simple solid wood benches surrounding a xeriscaped tree garden and a mural by local artist Ron Saunders, supporting quiet contemplation. The floor-to-ceiling windows bring daylight inside, creating a sense of balance ­between the interior and the exterior.

This quality of organic design is central to the Bayview Linda Brooks-Burton Branch’s success. By rising up to meet the community’s needs in a way that feels genuine to the environment, the space ends up feeling like a second home.—Toby ­Greenwalt

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

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Hosted in partnership with Salt Lake County Library and The City Library—at SLCo’s Viridian Center—the newest installment of our library building and design event will let you dig deep with architects, librarians, and vendors to explore building, renovating, and retrofitting spaces to better engage your community.