May 20, 2004

Libraries: the next must-have amenity

  • From San Diego to Nashville, central libraries are the civic project du jour
    Journal Staff Reporter

    San Francisco caught it. Ditto for Denver, Phoenix and Vancouver, British Columbia. Nashville? Check. San Antonio? Check. And now Seattle, too.

    It seems the library bug is going around.

    Over the past decade, many of the largest cities in the United States and Canada have replaced their central libraries with gleaming new theme parks for the higher mind. Other cities such as Dallas, Philadelphia and Winnipeg, Manitoba, are embarking on major renovations to update technology and expand facilities.

    A number of factors are fueling this trend, observers say, not the least of which is the chance to spur economic development.

    A striking new downtown library inspires an image of a “renaissance” in large cities, said Luis Herrera, president of the Public Library Association.

    “It's a civic building, a beacon of enlightenment,” Herrera said. A new library “galvanizes community pride, really making a statement of the library as a cultural and educational institution.”

    Herrera reeled off a list of cities such as Phoenix and Nashville where new central libraries made a difference in the city core.

    A dynamic landmark such as Seattle Central Library can encourage tourism and play a role in the image of the city, said Karin Zaugg, the spokeswoman for Seattle's Office of Economic Development.

    The cumulative effect of Seattle's civic vitality, she said, “does help our case as a city in economic development efforts.”

    The Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix, completed in 1995, brought a much-needed amenity to an area that had already seen significant population growth, said Jeanine Jerkovic of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.

    Future growth and development in downtown Phoenix — as in many other large cities — are factors that “seem to call for public, community, family and intellectual resources like libraries,” Jerkovic said.

    By the 1990s, a lot of libraries reached a point where it was more cost-effective to replace them than to make do.

    “Many central libraries in cities were built ages ago and had a much narrower purpose than they do today,” said Julie Patterson of the Aurora, Colo., library system outside Denver. “Libraries today serve as true community centers where patrons can log onto the Internet, grab a latte, check out the latest DVDs and CDs, hold neighborhood meetings (and) take a xeriscape class.”

    Technological advancements in the storage and delivery of information also offer compelling reasons to update.

    Libraries seem to survive on 50- to 60-year cycles, said Herrera of the Public Library Association.

    “A lot of central libraries go way back to the 1950s,” he said. “I think that we're going through the next generation.”

    Here's a brief look at central-library projects in other cities:

    Salt Lake City Main Library

    Photo courtesy of the SLC Public Library System

    The new Salt Lake City Main Library opened last year with more than double its previous space.

    The building was designed by Moshe Safdie, whose Massachusetts firm designed Library Square in Vancouver, B.C., and is at work on a proposed central library project in Philadelphia.

    One of the Salt Lake library’s most notable features is a six-story curving wall that borders a public plaza. Inside, the wall encloses ground-level shops and services, and above, a 300-seat auditorium and reading galleries. Between the outer wall and the rest of the library is a spacious, daylit gathering area called the urban room. The lower floors of the building house the active areas, which give way to quieter study and reference areas on the upper floors.

      Size: 240,000 square feet

      Cost: $65 million

      Architect: Moshe Safdie and Associates, Somerville, Mass.; with Valentiner Crane Brunjes Onyon Architecture, Salt Lake City

      General contractor: Big-D Corp., Salt Lake City

      Completion: 2003

    Kansas City Central Library

    Kansas City Central Library
    Photo courtesy of the Kansas City Public Library

    Kansas City’s central library reopened last month in a 1906 bank building. Improvements include a restored lobby, a grand third-floor reading room, a special collections archive, an auditorium and a rooftop terrace.

    The bank vault from a 1925 addition was converted into a 30-seat theater for presentations and film screenings. Other amenities include a ground-floor cafe, a pair of lushly restored conference rooms, a 1,045-square-foot gallery and a technology training center.

      Size: 190,000 square feet

      Cost: $49.5 million

      Architect: HNTB, Kansas City

      General contractor: J.E. Dunn Construction, Kansas City

      Completion: 2004

    San Diego New Main Library

    San Diego New Main Library
    Image courtesy of TSNC Architects

    The city of San Diego expects to begin work this summer on a replacement for its cramped 1954 central library.

    The design for the new nine-story library emphasizes learning and community interaction in addition to more traditional library functions.

    The building will feature two-story glass windows that invite views into the library from the street. Inside, folding glass doors open into a tree-shaded garden for events and gatherings. A pavilion-like outdoor cafe will be located in the garden space as well as a 350-seat sloped auditorium.

    From the upper floors, visitors can enjoy views of the San Diego Bay. A three-story reading room will be shaded by overhead latticework along with a series of open terraces looking down onto the reading room. An open, trellised dome protects the public room and terraces from summer sun and cool bay breezes.

    The library will be located along a planned promenade that links the city’s famed Balboa Park with San Diego Bay.

      Size: 496,000 square feet

      Cost: $149.5 million

      Architect: Rob Wellington Quigley, San Diego; with Tucker Sadler Noble Castro Architects, San Diego; and SMWM, San Francisco

      General contractor: To be selected; construction begins later this year

      Completion: 2007

    Minneapolis Central Library

     Minneapolis Central Library
    Image courtesy of Cesar Pelli & Associates

    Construction is under way on a new central library in Minneapolis. The building, which replaces a 1961 structure, features a wing-like roof and a five-story glass-enclosed galleria.

    The building will also include two levels of below-grade parking and — this being frosty Minneapolis — three future skywalk connections to tie into the city’s downtown pedestrian pathways.

    The library will be crowned by a $28.1 million planetarium that includes a 200-seat theater, observatory and exhibition hall.

      Size: 357,000 square feet

      Cost: $125 million

      Architect: Cesar Pelli & Associates, New Haven, Conn.; with Architectural Alliance, Minneapolis; Michaels Associates, Minneapolis; and Ralph Appelbaum Associates, New York

      General contractor: M.A. Mortenson Co., Minneapolis

      Completion: 2006


    Jon Silver can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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