The new Walker Library is sited in an active urban site near downtown Minneapolis in a neighborhood with a demographically diverse population. The site, at one of Minneapolis’ busiest intersections, is adjacent to the midtown Greenway bike trails and a public transportation hub. The project is as much about the relationship of the program to the busy street as it is about the role of the library in the community. The project reconciles contradictory goals: siting a small quiet library on a heavily trafficked urban intersection; balancing community needs for openness and accessibility with individual needs for privacy and security; and creating a strong, highly visible civic building within a low budget and small site.
While the public library is still centered on a collection of books and in supporting literacy, the community library has evolved into a building type that is expected to accommodate a larger range of neighborhood needs and an important social function. In addition to prioritizing the visibility of activity, this included integrating new collaborative work areas, community gathering spaces, and access to technology and information.
The $8.4M, 30,000 S.F. building includes the library collection and reading room, community meeting areas and underground vehicle parking. Other program spaces include a central service area, technology areas, informal study areas, collaborative workspaces, conference rooms, a lecture/presentation room, and administrative spaces.
The new Walker Library takes its form from the forces of neighborhood traffic flows, amplifying the experience of the library as a quiet space sited within various flows of traffic and activity. To heighten this, polished or reflective materials on the façade glimmer and subtly change color in response to the passing movement of pedestrians, bikes and cars while tall glazing creates visibility to the street. The material selections for both the façade and the light monitors also heighten the awareness of the passage of time by registering subtle changes in ambient light from dawn to dusk, throughout the seasons.
The rooftop light monitors are oriented in three directions to allow the visual tracking of the motion of the sun through changing light patterns. On the interior, glass surrounds extend the monitors into the space, reflecting inward the yellow light from the exterior tinted glazing. Changing intensity based on the sun’s orientation, they animate the reading room throughout the day; at dusk they turn a uniform shade of blue as the glass returns to its natural color.
The user’s sense of motion decreases/slows as they move into the quiet interior. The main reading room is zoned to define quieter or more active areas to correspond to the level of street activity viewed from the interior. The tall reading room was conceived as an open plan of program providing choice for users and can be reconfigured in the future to meet the library’s changing programming needs. To accommodate this, a raised access floor allows flexibility while elevating the program above the busy street corner. Insulated glazing and acoustical deck and panels create a quiet interior.
The previous library on the site was built underground to conserve energy, creating public spaces invisible to the Uptown neighborhood and with an underused plaza and open parking lot fronting the street. The new library is designed to be highly visible while creating a compatible scale with the existing commercial fabric along Hennepin Avenue. It is sited to create strong pedestrian connections to the public transit hub and adjacent bike trails while activating the adjacent park space.
The form of the street façade along Hennepin is bent in two different directions, the upper metal façade is inflected to relate to its urban context and to the Uptown Theatre marquis, the inflection of the lower glass wall opens the sidewalk at the intersection to the flow of pedestrians, creating a sense of civic space. The design uses a shift in volume to create two different program zones and organize the site. The project was conceived with a tall open reading room parallel to Hennepin Avenue—as a living room on the street—while also creating reading areas visually connected to Lagoon and to the adjacent park space. Service and support are contained in a parallel lower volume space oriented to service access and parking.
A dark wood wall with clerestory windows above defines the boundary between the main public reading room and support spaces. Brightly colored surfaces weave behind the wall to define spaces with community functions—meeting rooms, amenities, information areas, interactive children spaces, a lecture room and access to the parking ramp located below.
Sustainable strategies for the library focus on creating a healthy environment, optimizing thermal comfort and the use of natural day-lighting. Spaces are designed for longevity and flexibility. The project building performance was calculated by an independent consultant and was determined to exceed baseline levels by 43%.
• Extensive use of recycled, local, renewable and sustainable materials: This includes AWI and FSC certified wood paneling and end panels; recycling demolished concrete and steel, and the reuse of concrete footings and walls from the existing building in the new structure.
• Energy Conservation: The project combines a high insulation building envelope and glazing systems with a high efficiency heating and cooling system with built in energy recovery. The project utilizes under-floor air distribution and the two-story volume to increase ventilation efficiency and improve indoor air quality. Advanced lighting controls and electronically controlled shading support daylight harvesting and minimizes electrical lighting usage. Lighting is high efficiency LED.
• Water and Site: Efficient land utilization and storm water management infrastructure that includes roof ponding and a below-grade cistern.
Principals: Vincent James FAIA, Jennifer Yoos FAIA, Nathan Knutson AIA
National Awards: American Institute of Architects Firm Award; VJAA (2012); American Institute of Architects Honor Awards; SJA Chapterhouse and Chapel (2013); Chicago Apartment (2013), AUB Student Center (2009), Tulane University Center (2009), Dayton House (2002), Type/Variant House (1998); Progressive Architecture Awards; AUB Student Center (2006), UC Gatehouse (2006); Longitudinal House(s) (2002), Cable Museum (2001), Tulane University Center (2000), Rowing Club (1999)
Architect magazine National ranking; VJAA 1st for Design Recognition (2010); American Academy of Arts and Letters, Award for Architecture (2001); Emerging Voices, Architectural League of New York (1998)
Recent Exhibitions: VJAA Office and Hostler Center, Beirut; Venice Biennale, US Pavilion (2014), Surreptitious Urbanisms; MIT (2014)
Monograph: VJAA, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, (2006).