March 22, 2018

Cedar Rapids Public Library | New Landmark Libraries 2015 Winner


From Disaster to Delight

Cedar Rapids Public Library | Iowa
ARCHITECT: OPN Architects, Inc.


OPENED: 2013
COST: $45 million
LEED Platinum Certified

Iowa’s Cedar Rapids Public Library faced disaster in 2008: a “500-year flood” that ruined homes, businesses, and the main, downtown branch of the public library. The library was filled with eight feet of water, which damaged the building and materials beyond repair. A group with a vision saw the silver lining and seized the opportunity to plan for a new library based on three main ideas:

  1. Establish the library as the dynamic center of the city’s urban core
  2. Embrace the transformational shifts of 21st-century technology
  3. Minimize the building’s environmental impact and long-term operational costs.

The library maintained an open dialog with the community while planning for a new building. Hundreds of community members came forward to participate in surveys and focus groups. Together, they created a beautiful community space.

One of the most unique characteristics of this library is its sustainability, highlighted by four main components: geothermal, lighting, envelope, and water. The library uses three geothermal wells to heat or cool outside air to maintain the indoor temperature efficiently; open spaces to allow ample natural light into the building, reducing the need for artificial light and reducing energy costs; a structure designed to reduce thermal conductivity; and rooftop green space to harvest storm water, drastically reducing the amount of surface runoff.


The new library is situated between the city’s primary urban park and the Museum of Art. According to the submission:

This placement of library, park, and museum completes a larger urban dialog and creates an active civic zone. The front façade of the library takes this dialog further by stepping back to create a large urban plaza that functions as an extension of the public spaces of park and street. The building is located within blocks of the city’s primary urban park, historic theater, convention center, outdoor amphitheater, restaurants, and hotels. Reserved parking encourages and rewards the use of fuel-efficient vehicles by the public. The building is located within one-quarter mile of at least two city bus routes and is immediately adjacent to a bike trail, which encourages patrons and staff to use public transportation or bike to the library.

Within the building, gone are the old stacks, dull rooms, and bulky circulation desks. Shorter stacks allow guests inside and out to see an open, brighter space. The circulation desks were replaced with smaller, portable workstations for staff and self-checkout stations. Both allow staff and guests to interact more freely. The new layout also allows for more community events to take place in the library, including weddings and the STEM Festival 2015.

Community members have even been known to bring out-of-town guests for impromptu tours, demonstrating their pride in the new building. Library visits and community events continue to ­increase.

As one judge noted, Cedar Rapids Public Library is “a destination, not just for citizenry but for tourists. This is a great library; a great building.” [For more on this story, see “The Comeback Kids” in the Fall 2014 issue of LJ Library by Design and LJ 1/09, in which the library’s team was named collectively LJ’s Librarian of the Year.—Ed.]—Betsy Eggers

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

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