February 17, 2018

The New Placemakers | New Landmark Libraries 2015

Welcome to the latest round of the New Landmark Libraries (NLL). It’s been four years since the NLL project launched, first identifying 20 public libraries and the following year seven academic libraries from nationwide to help inform and inspire those facing the opportunity of renovating or building a new library. This year, LJ returns to the public library arena to pinpoint the most exciting public libraries completed since that initial foray. We received more than 80 submissions from across the United States and Canada. The exceptional quality of these submissions, from every region, showcases the evolving strength of public libraries today.

Overview: The New Placemakers



Using the criteria first established for the 2011 competition, we solicited applications for new buildings and major renovations completed between 2010 and 2014. (Libraries completed before 2010 were honored in the previous public-focused round of the NLL competition). To find the 2015 new Landmarks, project coordinator Emily Puckett Rodgers, program manager at the University of Michigan School of Information, Ann Arbor, gathered a group of seven judges—including architects, interior designers, public and academic librarians, and an LJ editor—to review the submissions in two rounds of assessment.

Our judges winnowed this year’s Landmark Libraries to the 11 strongest, plus another 11 honorable mentions, but the vibrancy of the entire application pool emphatically illustrates the leadership libraries are taking to support the educational, training, and entertainment needs of their constituents in the 21st century. Though this year’s winners and honorable mentions were completed within a four-year period, many of these projects began years or even decades prior. What you see profiled in the pages that follow are the results of strong leadership, community investment, vision, and dreaming big.

From trends to standards

Nine trends were identified in the article on the 2011 NLL. Many of these trends have since evolved into standards that our 2015 cohort display.

Over 15 of our winners or honorable mentions this year were Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certified; four of those are Platinum certified or pending. In the first NLL round, 11 of the 20 Landmarks or honorable mentions were LEED certified. Open floor plans, lower shelving, expansive sight lines, and fewer walls emerged across the Landmark libraries in 2011; such design decisions are now more nuanced. New library buildings are helping to save neighborhoods, but the 2015 Landmarks are models in paving the way for infrastructure improvements, economic revitalization, and deeper civic partnerships that strengthen entire cities.

Also interesting, we don’t see a continued trend toward fewer service points, but we do see smarter service points. These new Landmarks are strategically combining services, making them more mobile, and using technology to free staff to engage more often with the public.

UNFORGETTABLE ENTRIES (clockwise from top l.):  Jasper Place Branch, St. Helena Branch Library, Madison Central Library, and San Diego Central Library. Photos by (clockwise from top l.): Hubert King, Atlantic Archives Inc./Richard Leo Johnson Photography, Lara Swimmer, and Rob Wellington Quigley

UNFORGETTABLE ENTRIES (clockwise from top l.): Jasper Place Branch, St. Helena Branch Library, Madison Central Library, and San Diego Central Library. Photos by (clockwise from top l.): Hubert King, Atlantic Archives Inc./Richard Leo Johnson Photography, Lara Swimmer, and Rob Wellington Quigley

Trends snapshot

The 2015 trends foreground the value public libraries are providing to their communities in the 21st century and illustrate how libraries are out in front as investors in community development and health. The visibility our Landmarks achieve enables each library (and its staff, services, and collections) to connect to the neighborhood, the town or city, and its surroundings in ways that truly celebrate what a difference access to information can make in people’s lives. We’ve identified nine additional trends from this year’s competition that further the concept of what a public library is or can be in today’s society.

1) Libraries are their communities

Our 2015 Landmarks truly illustrate what it means to be user-focused. We see a shift from collection-centric to people-centric programming and services. While some collections shrank in the new libraries, many were reintegrated into the library to serve specific audiences more proactively. After hurricanes Katrina and Rita shifted the region’s population, the Main Library at Goodwood in East Baton Rouge, LA, redesigned its collections to put the Career Center, English-language learning, and adult new reader collections front and center. The staff has seen an increase in use of these collections since making the change. Commissioned art created by local artists is a standout feature of our Landmarks. San Francisco’s Bayview Linda Brooks-Burton Branch called for a series of etched glass panels by artist Ron Saunders to reflect the neighborhood’s African American heritage. The Wolf Creek Branch in Atlanta commissioned a community art project for the new building that resulted in three pieces—one of which was created by over 30 professional or semiprofessional artists. These artworks not only reflect the community but also serve to celebrate and solidify it.

2) Productive partnerships

The 2015 Landmarks take partnerships to a new level. Many of our winners established explicit partnerships with existing city or civic institutions. Four libraries partnered with parks, three with local YMCAs or community centers, and two with schools. These partnerships resulted in joint-use facilities or strategically aligned visions, programming, and services that strengthen both organizations. For its East Branch, the Milwaukee Public Library collaborated with the city’s Small Business Enterprise Program to provide more than 12 percent of the labor for the construction of the library. For the new ­Warrensville Heights library in Ohio, the city provided infrastructure improvements to property by adding streets, sidewalks, curbs, lighting, utilities, sewers, and water lines. The library is collocated with the YMCA facility, and the city intends to build the future town hall adjacent to the library. (Designs for both were discussed in tandem.) Sandwiched within the nine floors of the San Diego Central Library is the e3 Civic High, a four-year public high school.

3) Libraries as placemakers

These Land-marks are truly statement libraries. Some, like San Diego, change the skyline. Others, like the Fort York Branch in Toronto, stabilize new neighborhoods in revitalized industrial areas. With its bold skycubes that reflect the sun and the city and its repurposed library sign, the Hennepin County Library’s Walker facility is a “highly visible community gathering place at one of the busiest intersections in the city of Minneapolis.” The East Branch of the Milwaukee Public Library is a mixed-use building housing the library, 99 apartments, and retail spaces. While the library doesn’t pay taxes, the other facilities do, adding to the city tax base. People and the activities animate these gathering places. By using new technologies and streamlining services, staff across the NLLs are now able to engage community members to provide more human-centered service. In Ottawa, the use of RFID technology allows the staff to “focus on serving the public and [assist] with the new technologies.”

4) Creative culture catalysts

We all know that many public libraries have experimented with developing creation spaces of some kind. The 2015 Landmarks are not simply tinkering with 3-D printers, they’re proactively investing in and supporting their creative arts and business communities. These libraries have developed artist-in-residence programs, educated entrepreneurs, and provided tools and training for both creative expression and professional development. At Madison, the artists-in-residence have access to their own private studio within the Bubbler Maker space. The new Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Branch of the Denver Public Library is envisioned as an incubator for growth. This concept is illustrated by the building’s sustainable (green) design, a Wonderwall that inspires exploration, and a coffee bar that is managed by a nonprofit that teaches entrepreneurial skills to teens. Elsewhere in Colorado, Library 21c is an innovative use of a repurposed call center. The now-library hosts the C3: Creative Computer Commons, an entrepreneurial zone that provides a host of features such as business computing, conference rooms, a copy/print center, and open workspace. In order to provide some of these services, the library contracted with select vendors from the city.

5) Aspirational and accessible

These libraries are not white boxes or warehouses, but they do embrace a building aesthetic that allows the programming, people, artwork, collections, and furniture within them to shine. The winners across the country, from San Francisco to St. Helena, SC, embrace modern design that celebrates the quality and integrity of the building without constraining its use. Unlike library designs of the past, these choose a more soothing overall palette, using brighter colors to drive wayfinding, signal different types of usage, and appropriate noise level. In the Vancouver Community Library, the “[s]trategic placement of wood, such as on the atrium ceiling, visually warms the interiors despite the building’s steel, glass, and concrete palette,” according to Wendy Abeel, communications director of architect firm the Miller Hull Partnership, which designed the library. The materials and finishes are chosen for their consistent value over time and their reflection of the community as they wear. For example, stucco finishes the façade of the Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Branch Library and reflects the local idiom. Zinc cladding is infinitely recyclable but stands up to Louisiana’s rain and sun. The steel-constructed roof of the Fort York Branch features exposed Douglas fir, referencing the historic wood cribbing discovered on the site. These buildings are of the community, providing a richness to the space that is in harmony with the changing activities happening within them. Our public libraries of today are buildings that are not shrines to information or knowledge but spaces that celebrate community, creation, and connection. The Bayview Linda Brooks-Burton Branch’s “simple form clad in patterned ceramic panels instills a civic presence that is bold enough to counter the busy boulevard at its doors yet respectful of the surrounding mix of two-story buildings, spanning a full century in age,” according to Sarah Bell, marketing director of THA Architecture, which designed the branch. In many of these libraries, urban, suburban or rural, you’ll see neutral or white walls, metal, or wood that let the functions of the library come to life, celebrating the site’s geography and the people who live there.

6) Libraries breathe and grow

Staff and public spaces alike are fundamentally designed to be versatile, flexible, and adaptive. This advances the experimentation with new but fixed spaces recognized in the 2011 NLLs. In the Cedar Rapids Public Library, “the openness of the space allows library staff and the community to create new and innovative uses for the building,” according to Kate Beihl, marketing director of OPN Architects, which headed up the project. In the Billings Public Library, MT, the floor plan is open so there are no “dead ends” in the building. In the East Branch library, laptop bars are strategically placed to double as refreshment bars. In Milwaukee “perches,” or mobile service desks, allow staff to go where the people are anywhere in the building. Raised floors provide power and connectivity that can be rerouted as needs change. Acoustic controls, including soundproofed glass, enable both loud and quiet activities to take place concurrently. At the Warrensville Heights Library, the “mantra…is to never have a space that sits vacant for an entire day,” says Renee Moldovansky, library planner and marketer for HBM Architects. Rooms are designed to expand or contract based on attendance, and many are to be used after the library officially closes. This allows the community to continue to make use of the library as a gathering place to host receptions, meetings, or even weddings. In Madison, the new building was designed with both staff and community use in mind. The core functions, mechanical space, and fixed infrastructure (such as bathrooms and staff workrooms) are collected in one area, allowing the rest of the area to remain flexible for a changing information world.

VISIONS TO BUILD ON (Clockwise from far l.): Vancouver Community Library, Cedar Rapids Public Library, Pico Branch Library, Lawrence Public Library, Bayview Linda Brooks-Burton Branch Library, Mitchell Park Library & Community Center, and East Baton Rouge Parish Main Library at Goodwoo-d. Top row photos by (l.-r.) Wayne Johnson/Main Street Studio; and William Short (r.). Middle row photos by (l.-r.) Alan Karchmer; Gregory Cortez; and Mike Sinclair. Bottom row photos by (l.-r.) Nic Lehoux; and William Short

VISIONS TO BUILD ON (Clockwise from far l.): Vancouver Community Library, Cedar Rapids Public Library, Pico Branch Library, Lawrence Public Library, Bayview Linda Brooks-Burton Branch Library, Mitchell Park Library & Community Center, and East Baton Rouge Parish Main Library at Goodwood. Top row photos by (l.-r.) Wayne Johnson/Main Street Studio; and William Short (r.). Middle row photos by (l.-r.) Alan Karchmer; Gregory Cortez; and Mike Sinclair. Bottom row photos by (l.-r.) Nic Lehoux; and Mike Sinclair

7) Transparent and light-filled

These libraries shine, literally as well as figuratively. Curtain walls allow many of these libraries to be visible, both from outside and within. These walls aren’t just for looks but feature energy-saving double- glazed glass, low-e coating, or argon fluid air space, which make them especially efficient and responsive to their environment. In the Vancouver Community Library, the use of glass “provide[s] an ‘open drawer’ glimpse into the world of discovery possible within by making the book stacks, reading chairs, and children’s area plainly visible to the outside, presenting an active and transparent connection to the surrounding neighborhood,” according to Miller Hull’s Abeel. At Cedar Rapids, the staffing area is pooled in an open studio, behind glass doors. By connecting staff to the activity in the library and the community to staff spaces, users can see how a library functions. Additional light sources (skylights, clerestory windows, and even courtyards) draw daylight deeper into the building, making reading more comfortable and reducing the need for artificial light sources. At the Pico Branch Library in Santa Monica, CA, 96 percent of the seating offers views to the outdoors. In the Battery Park branch of the New York Public Library, the full glass walls allow passersby to see the story time area, situated on a street corner. This showcases the library’s services for its younger residents.

8) Connected to the environment

Many of the 2015 Landmarks are designed in such a way as to maximize beauty, infrastructure, and programming holistically. These buildings engage both their communities and their natural environment. In the Bayview Linda Brooks-Burton Branch, for example, the central courtyard enhances natural light within the interior in addition to contributing to the library’s natural airflow via stack ventilators that draw in and filter outside air. Rooftop gardens, site collocation with parks, and the development of parks and green space around the site are designed for both environmental and programmatic uses. Virginia Beach and Tidewater Community College’s Joint-Use Library takes inspiration from its agrarian past to create bays that each have a distinct function for staff, academic learning, collaboration, teen and children’s areas, and quiet reading. In Warrensville, OH, runoff is filtered through bioswales in the parking areas, preventing it from entering streams (and eventually Lake Erie) too quickly, while also supporting a wildlife habitat.

9) Boundless

In their shift toward people-centric, place-making perspectives, our 2015 Landmarks showcase that libraries are community catalysts. Each of these libraries illustrates what it looks like to provide access to information in the 21st century. For the Lawrence Public Library, KS, the major renovation included the construction of a new building envelope. This enabled energy savings but also created a library that reflects its “neighborhoods to the west, the post office to the north, the downtown area to the east, and a new park to the south,” says Director Brad Allen. In Edmonton, the new Jasper Place Branch focuses on providing the economically stratified suburban neighborhood with a “new social heart.” Perhaps the most inspiring example of the boundless library is the St. Helena Branch Library at Penn Center, in South Carolina. Situated on a historically and culturally significant site, the library literally weaves local heritage into its design. Housing the Gullah Geechee ­Special Collections is a woven net, ensconcing visitors in what Jennifer Charzewski, associate principal of Liollio Architecture, calls “a space that feels almost sacred and allows small group meetings, lectures, or quiet ­research and contemplation.”

The Criteria

When planning your next building project, consider these criteria as a checklist for programming and design and tools to share with your campus or community leaders.

1. Overall design and construction excellence. Consider (a) appropriateness and quality of materials; (b) connections between interior and exterior spaces; (c) durability of building finishes and furnishings; (d) appropriateness of materials used given local circumstances; and (e) responses by stakeholders, community or beyond including recognition, additional funding, and/or symbolic significance.

2. Response to community context and constraints. Consider (a) how stakeholders and staff input shaped the design; (b) any campus or neighborhood improvements such as pedestrian access; (c) any incorporation of multi-functional uses; (d) any creative solutions to local constraints; and (e) an appropriate physical setting.

3. Sustainability. With regard to (a) site selection and development; (b) water efficiency; (c) energy use; (d) materials and resources used; (e) indoor environmental quality; and (f) ongoing education, outreach and operations.

4. Functionality. A new landmark library maximizes functionality in the delivery of library services. What design elements improve the service delivery, experience, and accessibility for students, faculty, community and staff?

5. Innovation. Landmark libraries respond to current and anticipated demographic, cultural and technological changes in innovative ways. Does the building test and prove the viability of new knowledge and assumptions?

6. Beauty and delight. Judges looked for evidence of positive initial impressions, a “wow” factor that delights visitors and any local, state, or national recognition and how does this relate to the design? Is the initial impression and “wow” factor long lasting and why.

The Judges

Seven judges led by project coordinator Emily Puckett Rodgers helped to evaluate the submissions in the light of the criteria developed for the first round of public library New Landmark Libraries in 2011. The judges represent a mix of public and academic library backgrounds, as well as architecture and journalism, and a variety of institution size and regional location. All judging was confidential and performed via Submittable software. LJ thanks them for generously sharing their time and expertise.

Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, Coordinator for Library Sustainability, Mid-Hudson Library System, Poughkeepsie, NY

Tim De Noble, Dean, College of Architecture, Kansas State University, Manhattan

Sara Dinoto, Interior Designer, Shepley Bulfinch, Boston

Toby Greenwalt, Director of Digital Strategy and Technology Integration, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Rochelle Mazar, Coordinator of the Digital Academy, University of Rochester River Campus Libraries, NY

Louise Schaper, Principal, Schaper Consulting Inc., Naples, FL, and previous New Landmark Libraries coordinator

Bette-Lee Fox, Managing Editor, Library Journal

Emily Puckett Rodgers, a 2013 LJ Mover & Shaker, is the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, School of Information’s Entrepreneurship Program Manager. She received her MSI from the School of Information in 2010, after working for eight years at the Fayetteville Public Library, AR

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
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  1. These libraries are wonderful and really a placemakers and thanks for sharing the post.