Building on the Past: An Inspired Union of Two Buildings, Grand Rapids Public Library Exemplifies a New Model for 21st-Century Design

American Libraries, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Building on the Past: An Inspired Union of Two Buildings, Grand Rapids Public Library Exemplifies a New Model for 21st-Century Design


Whether libraries are simply riding the wave of a glorious past remains to be seen, but the array of facilities and design rising across the nation suggests a future that is, if not glorious, at least vibrant and based on the traditional role of libraries as venues for lifelong learning.

Of the dozens of library projects completed in 2003--including the 38 spotlighted here--all build on the past in some way: keeping and restoring what works, improving or replacing what doesn't, and adding space when collections and services for growing populations demand it.

Incorporating all these elements, the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Public Library (cover and right) unites two buildings--the original 1904 Ryerson Library and the 1967 structure originally intended as its replacement--into one facility that looks to the future with technology, better access to collections, and improved efficiency.

Even in states suffering severe budget cuts, construction continues, albeit with funds approved during better times. In cash-strapped California, for example, the Los Angeles Public Library carried out plans to revamp half its branches using funding from Proposition DD, approved in 1998, while the San Jose Public Library built on the success of a $212-million bond passed in 2000.

Despite an uncertain financial future, libraries--and the people who believe in them--seem determined to ensure that the building goes on.

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Despite the defeat of a 1992 bond issue, the Milton-Freewater (Oreg.) Public Library persisted in seeking alternative ways to fund a new building to replace its 1918 Carnegie facility. Ten years later, the library foundation reached its $2.5-million goal--99% of which came from private contributions--and began construction on a 12,800-square-foot facility designed by Integrus Architecture. Completed in less than a year, the new library offers patrons a scenic view of the Blue Mountains through a 35-foot picture window in the mezzanine's lounge area. Photo by Peter Hassel Photography.

Above, an $18-million project by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates to join two buildings that had served as the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Public Library involved reopening the lightwell of the grand stairs. Below, as part of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's first-ever capital improvement program, the $4.37-million renovation of the Homewood branch completely restored the 94-year-old building to its original grandeur. Pfaffmann and Associates transformed what had been a mezzanine into a home for the library's African-American collection.

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With funds approved in 1998 by Proposition DD, Los Angeles Public Library continued its plan to expand, renovate, and replace 32 branches. Among the projects completed in 2003:

* Above left, the 10,700-square-foot Lake View Terrace branch is a model "green" building, with carpet and walls of recycled materials, solar panels, and a bamboo floor in the lobby. The $5.86-million project was designed by Fields Devereaux Architects and Engineers.

* Left, at 14,500 square feet, the $6.56-million Chinatown branch by Carde Ten Architects houses the largest collection of Chinese-language materials in Southern California.

* Above, wall and ceiling panels of the new Westchester-Loyola Village branch feature Jill D'Agnenica's silkscreened portraits of patrons dressed as their favorite literary characters. Aleks Istanbullu Architects designed the 12,500-square-foot, $4.34-million building.

* Opposite, the prow-like corner of the Encino-Tarzana Branch--a $4.75-million, 12,500-square-foot facility by Steven Ehrlich Architects that doubles the space of the previous branch--provides an airy, whimsical storytelling area. Photos by Tom Bonner.

Right, a joint-use facility for the city of Seminole, Florida, and St. …

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