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Best in Library Design: AIA names seven projects 2016 Library Building Awards winners

Snøhetta’s Ryerson University student center and the Billings (Mont.) Public Library by Will Bruder+Partners highlight the seven winning projects.

April 18, 2016 |
AIA announces 2016 Library Building Awards winners

Chicago Public Library, Chinatown Branch. Photo: © Hedrich Blessing/SOM

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the American Library Association (ALA) selected seven winners of the 2016 AIA/ALA Library Building Awards. 

The goal of the program is to recognize and encourage the advancement of library design, with an emphasis on the buildings that best serve their communities.

The jury was made up of six individuals: Lynn S. Grossman, AIA (Chair), CannonDesign; Bradd Brown, AIA, OPN Architects; Kathleen Imhoff, building consultant; Ryan E. Kanteres, AIA, Scott Simons Architects; Susan Parker, UCLA Library; and Darro Willey, library facilities consultant. 

Here are profiles of the seven winners:


Billings Public LibraryPhoto: © Bill Timmerman. Click image to enlarge.


Billings Public Library | Billings, Mont. 

Architect: Will Bruder+Partners, with O2 Architects

The 66,000-sf Billings Public Library draws from nearby natural features, like Rimrock sandstone, “big sky” horizons, and early Montana settlers’ homes. Built into a base of Rimrock, the building has zinc-clad wall panels and perforated stainless steel shading panels. The library has a two-story sky-lit lobby, a reflecting pool, and a 51-foot cone sculpture. Native plants were used to make a parking garden instead of a paved lot.

Jury member comment: “The library is a beautiful, functional box that successfully incorporates playful volumes to create interest while providing circulation cues and giving the interior a unique identity.”



Chicago Public Library, Chinatown Branch. Photo: © Hedrich Blessing. Click image to enlarge.


Chicago Public Library, Chinatown Branch | Chicago

Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, with Wight & Company

Shaped like a pebble, the three-sided Chinatown Branch of the Chicago Public Library incorporates ancient feng shui principles. The 16,000-sf building allows for a fluid movement of pedestrians and exterior landscaping. The glass façade allows daylight and views both inside and out. The building's two-story central atrium connects all the spaces. A solar shading screen within the glass curtain wall reduces heat gain. 

Jury member comment: “The form of the building is a direct response to the site influences, the interior of the library is a direct response to the purpose of the library, and the exterior envelope is a direct response to the sustainable objectives.”



Hennepin County Walker Library. Photo: © Paul Crosby. Click image to enlarge.


Hennepin County Walker Library | Minneapolis

Architect: VJAA

Characterized by the designers as a quiet living room in a busy artsy district, the Hennepin County Walker Library has a double-height reading room with acoustical decking, wall panels, and sound insulating glass to keep the noise out. Nine rooftop light monitors alter their output based on how strong the sunlight is. The building has 30,000 sf of space and a steel and glass-clad building façade that matches the rest of the city’s civic buildings. 

Jury member comment: “This library has a great civic presence that enhances the uptown community rather than overpowering its neighbors.”



Lawrence Public Library Renovation and Expansion. Photo: © Tim Griffith; Mike Sinclair. Click image to enlarge.


Lawrence Public Library Renovation and Expansion | Lawrence, Kan.

Architect: Gould Evans

Designers added 20,000 sf to a dated 1970s library. Along with some small changes (like offering a drive-up book drop and service window), the Lawrence Public Library now has two tech-heavy youth areas, a recording studio, a perimeter reading room, a stepped amphitheater, and a multi-function plaza park. A terra cotta rainscreen honors Lawrence’s red brick downtown while also providing an insulation system that increases the building’s overall R-value.

Jury member comment: “The decision to 'wrap' the current facility creates a wonderful perimeter reading space and the penetrations through the original exterior and the new atrium unifies the interior spaces.”



Renton Public Library. Photo: © Lara Swimmer. Click image to enlarge.


Renton Public Library | Renton, Wash.

Architect: The Miller Hull Partnership

The Renton Public Library, which spans the Cedar River, needed a bit of an overhaul after 50 years of use. The Building Team updated the envelope to match current energy codes, and installed new cross bracing and aluminum siding in a nod to the city’s industrial history. Full height glazing and a new open floor plan offers plenty of interior space for activities and provides views of the river. The team used landward pilings to renovate the structure, which is situated on an active salmon habitat.

Jury member comment: “The original concept of the library as a bridge is very powerful, yet it feels as if it took this redesign for the library to fully reach its potential.”



Ryerson University Student Learning Centre. Photo: © DoubleSpace Photography; Lorne Bridgman. Click image to enlarge.


Ryerson University Student Learning Centre | Toronto 

Architect: Snøhetta, with Zeidler Partnership Architects

Ryerson University wanted a space where students could relax and socialize as well as study, so the school chose a design scheme that has worked for thousands of years. The design team emulated historical Greek gathering spaces with its eight-floor student center. Each floor has a theme: the sixth floor is known as The Beach due to its informal setting and sloping floor seating, while the top floor, The Sky, has an airy ceiling with natural light. Other themes include The Forest and The Garden. In front of the building, a large iridescent canopy covers a raised platform.

Jury member comment: “This library brands each floor to provide bold, shaped, and exciting landscapes well suited to the collaborative, creative, and social student body.”



Sawyer Library. Photo: © Peter Aaron/ESTO. Click image to enlarge.


Sawyer Library | Williamstown, Mass.

Architect: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Designers of the renovated Stetson Hall at Williams College added a new 132,000-sf Sawyer Library that occupies an area previously used by faculty housing. The building has a collaboration zone that has three levels containing reference materials, technology, and rare books. Monographs have been scattered around four levels. A four-story light reflector shines light into the center of the building. 

Jury member comment: “The new library completes the renovation of the campus quadrangle. The library is restored to its position as a focus of the central green space, serving as the town commons for the college. It draws people into and through the space.”

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