Forty years after its original opening in 1980, Atlanta’s Central Library has reopened following a $50 million renovation project designed by Cooper Carry in association with Vines Architecture. The build team devised a plan to rehabilitate the eight-story building into a place that balances the original brutalist design with modernizing the space to better appeal to Atlanta’s next generation of library goers.
The team envisioned a design strategy to utilize technology; introduce additional windows; reallocate space; improve way finding; replace mechanical systems for greater comfort, efficiency, and sustainability; and activate the exterior plaza to create a more transparent, safe, accessible, and functional building from the outside in.
Other key considerations included creating more natural light, flexibility to support changing programs, and improved street-level engagement. The introduction of windows to existing recessed planes significantly improved daylight access, helping to create a brighter interior and a more welcoming presence.
A challenge of the library’s interior was that it was underutilized and difficult to navigate, leaving many of the original design signatures hiding in plain sight. The design team unearthed and put these elements on display, including a distinct sculptural staircase and waffle slab ceiling and skylights that occupy the center of the building by relocating the original central service elevator that was in the way. Opening up the core of the building had the effect of bringing in natural light to the atrium while serving as a smoke exhaust pathway, which was a necessary mechanical change to the building's life safety systems.
Visitors will discover the addition of comfortable gathering hubs that encourage library guests to move outside the confines of the traditional library on the previously underutilized fifth floor outdoor terrace. In the future, flex spaces like the terrace and the adjacent auditorium with telescoping seating and a large glass operable door could be used as an income-generating venue for events.
The library’s revamped exterior plaza will be activated with more lighting, video information displays, and spaces to meet and gather. The goal is to extend the library’s footprint into the urban fabric and draw outsiders in.
The design team worked with Fulton County Library System, in addition to design build contractors Winter-Johnson with Moody Nolan.