May 20, 2004

Neighborhood libraries get big-city treatment

  • Yesterday's central-library innovations are appearing in today's local branches
    Keen Engineering

    Beacon Hill Library
    Photo by Jon Silver
    The Beacon Hill Library, slated for completion later this year, will include an underfloor access system more common in high-profile libraries such as Seattle Central Library.

    The public library system is only about 150 years old but we have come a long way from relying on the philanthropy of multimillionaires to provide funding for our libraries.

    Modern library collections range from classic books to the most current reference technologies and latest DVDs. The modern library building has also seen vast changes in design — some dictated by use and others by available building technologies and trends.

    Some of the latest design concepts incorporated into recent large central-library developments have trickled down to local branch libraries. Major developments such as Library Square in Vancouver, B.C. (completed in 1995), and the Seattle Central Library include technological innovations in their designs that were soon applied to libraries at the neighborhood level.

    Fresh air

    The influence of these innovations can be found in the designs of newly renovated or constructed branch libraries in the Seattle area.

    The North East branch in Ravenna-Bryant will soon reopen to the public with more than double the square footage of the previous facility. The perimeter of the building has been preserved for historical reasons, but the interior offers all of the modern amenities, including technologically advanced and sustainable building services.

    Library patrons and staff will benefit from the comforts of sustainable design features, including energy-efficient lighting and operable windows. The windows and louvers are strategically placed to cool the indoor space. Once the indoor air reaches a designated temperature above the outdoor air temperature, the windows and louvers will open, drawing in cooler air from outside.

    This building will represent a new generation of naturally cooled public libraries that add value, both culturally and educationally, to local neighborhoods while utilizing technological advances in engineering.

    Underfloor system

    The Beacon Hill branch library will be both distinctive in design and comfortable in function, bringing some innovative engineering technology previously found only in large central libraries.

    New lighting and windows installed in this library will prove more efficient and higher in quality than what was installed in the previous building.

    The library's underfloor air and access system will offer flexibility and improve comfort. This system, originally found only in major central libraries such as Library Square, allows heavy shelving and other workstation areas to be moved without regard to the limitations imposed by a more traditional air duct system.

    The flexible underfloor access system will also allow the library to make adjustments easily as technological advances or user preferences create demand for new configurations.

    The many sustainable features of this facility are also components that are not traditionally found in basic local branches.

    This new facility has a roof structure that hangs over the building like a hat, providing a sunshade that helps to reduce heat gain, and natural building materials that include locally harvested woods.

    The Beacon Hill Branch Library will be a welcome asset to the neighborhood, bringing pride of ownership and increased access to all members of the community when it opens later this year.

    The open library

    Montlake Library, which is due to open in 2005, is part of the growing trend to include all the that the modern public library has to offer in all aspects of its design.

    As with other new local branch facilities, this library will incorporate an access floor with an underfloor air system, daylighting and other sustainable design features such as low-flow plumbing fixtures and high-efficiency boilers for the heating system.

    A key architectural feature in the Montlake branch is a significant glass wall that will open up the building to 24th Avenue East. The wall will include areas for study and reading, allowing passersby to view the activity in the library while those inside absorb some of the vitality of the street outside. This interactivity is another example of a central-library element that has found its way to the local branch.

    The Montlake Library will promote public perception of the open, self-help culture of modern libraries and be part of the trend for local branch libraries to reach out and engage the public.

    The Seattle public library system continues to make significant gains in providing the public with valuable community services housed in buildings that adopt the best practices in design and innovation. People can see the revolution that is taking place at their local branch.

    Paul Anseeuw is vice president of Keen Engineering, a mechanical consulting engineering firm specializing in sustainable design.

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