As the only public library serving Montana’s largest metropolitan area, Billings Public Library stands in the urban heart and geographic center of the community. The design of the library is responsive, innovative, friendly and memorable. Charged by the generous vision of a primary donor, the library and design team were tasked with creating an iconic, timeless landmark for the city of Billings. The citizens wanted a library that would be beautiful while also being both extremely functional and flexible. In the great tradition of the Carnegie endowment for America’s great public libraries of the 19th and 20th centuries, this building was conceived to become a touchstone for ‘place’. Original to any other building in the community, the library innovatively uses its urban context and the horizon line of the Rim Rock landscape that surrounds it to create its civic identity.
The library is a celebration of Montana’s architectural heritage as it rises from a foundation of indigenous Rim Rock golden-gray sandstone and architectural masonry with rustic weeping mortar horizontal joints. It is capped with a well-proportioned and finely crafted assemblage of zinc-clad wall panels, environmentally responsive glazing systems, and shimmering perforated stainless steel shading panels that are calibrated to maximize views and optimize light.
While serving as a library, it is designed to be a uniquely comfortable armature for both the tradition of the book and the innovation of the digital resources of an unknown future. It is a built environment both familiar and fresh; one that offers joy in viewing the world from a different point of view with every visit and interaction.
The library is both familiar and surprising, massive yet minimal, mysteriously cloaked yet transparently ethereal, with a built form that carries sunlight and shadow, snow and wind with unexpected reflections and connections to place. It is a grand space with a vast window looking out to the landscape and the future aspirations of its users. It is a uniquely comfortable building with a breathtaking view of the surrounding community it serves.
At the main level the patron is greeted by a grand two-story sky lit focal point lobby with self service check-in/check-out stations, a help desk, café and friends shop. Colorful graphics, unexpected wall finishes and plan geometries give all the spaces a warm, comfortable sense of the building’s being a public living room that everyone enjoys and respects. From the simple clusters of log stools at the main entry, the reflecting pool with its luminous rim rock photo mural, the children’s area with its 51 foot tall sculptural sky lit story cone and the dramatic views of the skyline from the great reading room, the library glows with community pride and design intention.
It is a comfortable room with a view in which to learn and grow, a place to answer a question, plan a trip, discover a career, engage an idea, a place to riff on the life as it is or daydream about life as it could be.
Will Bruder FAIA
president / will bruder architects
Will Bruder explores inventive and contextually exciting architectural solutions in response to site opportunities and user needs. Will is a craftsman in his concern for detail and building processes, and a sculptor in his unique blending of space, materials, and light. Will’s ability to raise the ordinary to the extraordinary is renowned.
Self-trained as an architect, Will has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in sculpture from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Supplementing his studio art education were studies in structural engineering, philosophy, art history, and urban planning, followed by a full architectural apprenticeship under Gunnar Birkerts and Paolo Soleri. Since becoming registered and opening his studio in 1974 over 600 commissions have been undertaken and the work has garnered more than 100 awards and appeared in over 1200 publications worldwide.