In anticipation of AIA Kansas City’s annual Design Excellence Awards next month, we’re putting the spotlight on the Lawrence Public Library, which received the “Professional’s Choice Award” from AIA KC in 2016! The expansion of a 1970s Brutalist-style library in downtown Lawrence has transformed it architecturally, reinventing it as a 21st century civic place. The existing library was uninviting due to poor thermal performance, difficult wayfinding and a lack of daylighting and openness. Library attendance was also down, particularly with younger generations.
Through extensive community dialogue, the citizens of Lawrence voiced their thoughts and established key design considerations. They recognized the significance of the library’s location in the community and the opportunity it provided to establish a new “place” within the downtown area. Gould Evans responded with a design that addresses the changing role of the library: from book repository to multimedia community hub.
The design for the addition is based on a simple expansion diagram. A continuous reading room wraps the existing library on all sides, transforming it into a forward-looking, community centered place. Each new elevation opens up to a different public constituency: neighborhoods to the west, the post office to the north, downtown to the east and a new plaza to the south.
The new, high-performance terra cotta rain screen is solid in areas where book collections need to be protected, employing long, narrow horizontal apertures to bring daylight into reading areas. Each corner is designed with floor-to-ceiling curtain walls that reveal glimpses of unique public amenities, including community gathering spaces, children’s cubby areas, teen gaming zones, small meeting spaces, and a coffee bar in the main lobby.
To aid in the goal of achieving a warm, open, light-filled and welcoming place, a new atrium was cut out of the center of the original library, connecting the basement level to all the way up to the new clerestory windows at roof level. A glass sculpture created by a local artist fills the atrium with a wide spectrum of color.
Meeting and maker spaces are distributed throughout the library, adjacent to and in support of the other library spaces. One key space that has become particularly popular is the Sound + Vision Room: a community access recording studio complete with a drum set and instruments. Lawrence has an active music culture and the Sound + Vision Room is used by local musicians to make recordings, such as demo tapes. Within a few months of the library’s reopening, user visits increased 55% over the previous year, with youth program attendance up 160%.
A new plaza park adjacent to the library entry was part of the project. This park accommodates both library and community functions with an informal stepped amphitheater, an events plaza and support for an ice-skating rink over the holiday season. In addition to the planned events, the park provides informal space as an outdoor reading area and as a connector to the community swimming pool and the larger downtown area.
The sustainable design strategy for the addition focused on increasing energy efficiency via daylight harvesting throughout the interior, improving thermal performance via the terra cotta rain screen system, and strategic sun-shading to eliminate glare. While not tied directly to energy savings, the existing building and mechanical systems were re-used rather than completely replaced which reduced some of the embedded energy involved in building a new structure. The net result of these strategies was the library was able to increase its size by 50% while actually reducing the building’s energy consumption.