February 17, 2018

Pico Branch Library | New Landmark Libraries 2015 Winner


Responsive, Inside and Out

Pico Branch Library | Santa Monica Public Library | California
ARCHITECT: Koning Eizenberg


OPENED: 2014
COST: $9.7 million
GOAL: LEED-NC Platinum Certification

This library vibrates with the energy of its community. Situated in the center of the 9.5-acre Virginia Avenue Park, the Pico Branch Library embraced the “community living room” concept design driven by the people in the surrounding neighborhood, always the first step to creating a destination library. Did it work? The 1,372 new library patrons registered in the first eight months of the life of this new building say yes.

“The new Pico Library is a stunning gem of a branch and a major point of pride in the community,” says Maria Carpenter, director of libraries for the City of Santa Monica. Others agree. The 8,690 square foot building, constructed for $9.7 million, was the 2014 recipient of the American Institute of Architects’ California Council Merit Award.

The interior layout speaks to the desire for the library to be a part of the neighborhood. Visitors are welcomed by a user-friendly “greeting/help station” rather than a traditional circulation desk. Programming is directly related to trends revealed through the planning process for the new facility. Residents voiced their concerns over the importance of having bilingual Spanish and English services: this informed decisions about hiring practices, and for the first time positions were created that required Spanish/English fluency.

The connection with the farmers market, which is held adjacent to the library, is another great example of this responsive programmatic planning. Staff members have also developed educational programs about food and health that appeal to locals accessing fresh fruits and vegetables at the market.

A “mix of park programs and recreational resources blurs the line between play and learning strengthening the library as a neighborhood hub,” says Homa Mojtabai, a senior administrative analyst for architecture for the City of Santa Monica, who nominated the project to be a New Landmark Library.


Further connecting the building to its surroundings, the carved roof on this “pavilion in the park” brings to mind the mountains of Santa Monica, which can be seen in the distance on clear days. Nearly all—96 percent—of the seating offers views of the outdoors, and such respect for the natural environment is carried through all aspects of the project, which is slated to receive the Platinum level of Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design ­certification.

Sustainable choices have resulted in this library being the first project, not just in Santa Monica but in all of Los Angeles County, to integrate rainwater harvesting into its design. Rainwater is collected, filtered, and reused for toilets both to save water and to keep the runoff from overburdening the storm water system. This library is powered by 100 percent renewable energy, boasting an iconic photovoltaic canopy that spans the fire lane. Daylight harvesting maximizes natural light, while passive shading cools the building.

This integration of the physical planning of the space with a renewed understanding of who the library serves is the recipe for a library that is holistically responsive to its neighborhood and residents.—Rebekkah Smith Aldrich

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

The Latest Trends in Library Design
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.