February 17, 2018

Mitchell Park Library & Community Center | New Landmark Libraries 2015 Winner


Service Meets Sustainability

Mitchell Park Library & Community Center | Palo Alto City Library | California
ARCHITECT: Group 4 Architecture, Research + Planning, Inc.


OPENED: 2014
COST: $46.3 million
GOAL: LEED-NC Platinum Certification

To find a public library built for the future, look no further than the Mitchell Park Library & Community Center. After a decade of community-based planning, input from hundreds of residents and municipal officials, a public bond measure that passed by a super­majority, and millions raised in corporate and individual donations, Palo Alto has achieved a smart building housing a sustainably designed library that is positioned to serve the community for generations to come.

The City of Palo Alto’s Library and its Community Service department developed what they refer to as an innovative “omni-channel” vision of improved, shared services, creating a destination for “civic, cultural, educational, social, and recreational experiences.”

The $46.3 million, 56,332 square foot facility is the newest and largest of six libraries in the Palo Alto City Library system. It’s location within Mitchell Park—with 21.4 acres of sports courts, a jogging and walking path, picnic areas, children’s play areas, and a dog run—helps to promote community-centric, healthy living.

The new space is four times the size of the previous structure. The “community center” portion of the library employs 16,000 square feet for classrooms, a 500 seat multipurpose room, a teen game and activity space (with ping pong, pool, and air hockey!), early childhood recreational space, and a café. There is truly something for everyone.

Conceptually, the floor plan is a Venn diagram, placing the library and community center in wings with the overlapping space containing flexible, shared activity areas to avoid duplication and maximize the footprint. The wings can be operated independently, however staff are cross-trained to provide more capacity in operations. The library is positioned to be responsive to community needs through both the design of the space and the deployment of staff and staff expertise.


This library is sustainable from both service-delivery and environmental perspectives. It exemplifies commitment to high-performance, sustainable design. Slated to receive Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design for New Construction (LEED-NC) Platinum certification, it worked with a “whole systems” design approach, with the engineering team integrated into the early phases of design.

Recognizing the constraints and opportunities of its natural surroundings, the building is smart: windows are operable and its mechanical system automatically adjusts to accommodate natural ventilation; green roofs insulate the building from the sun’s heat and are planted with grasses and drought-tolerant materials that require little supplemental water; the building is designed to reduce potable water use by 44 percent immediately and by up to 90 percent by 2020 when the municipal reclaimed water system will be extended to the site; 100 percent of precipitation is managed on-site; and the project is designed to outperform California Title 24 energy code requirements by 42 percent.

The library treats this new, innovative building as part of its collection, leveraging the smart decisions made to create a sustainably designed building to teach the community about how to design for the local climate. A living wall, with a planting pattern that echoes the Santa Cruz mountains, greets visitors and is visible from the street. Visitors can search for “ecoglyphics” through a treasure hunt–style game to learn more about how the building makes good use of water, energy, materials, and more.

“I’m excited this place exists,” said a community member after a sneak peek tour prior to the grand opening. “I’m lucky to live in Palo Alto.”—Rebekkah Smith Aldrich

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

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