Glen Oaks Branch Library is designed to replace an existing one story facility with a new 18,000 sf, high performance, LEED certified building. The program includes adult, young adult, and children’s reading areas and collections, periodicals, a cybercenter, and community meeting rooms along with staff workspaces. The site is at the juncture of low scale commercial and institutional buildings with a suburban residential neighborhood. The area of the required program is double that allowable by zoning, so one half of the interior spaces is placed below grade.
To bring natural light below grade, a double-height space acts as a large skylight and connects the ground floor to the lower level. In addition, three strip skylights in the plaza define more specific reading areas within the adult room. The ceiling of the adult reading room under the outdoor plaza is contoured to form varying heights above the finish floor, providing more intimate reading areas within the relatively open plan. The profile of the contoured ceiling is read at the double-height space, visually making the connection between the plaza surface and the ceiling surface and accentuating the artificiality of the ground.
The landscape strategy acknowledges the ground surface’s dual role as an outdoor public space and as the roof of the cellar below, exploring the relationship between artifice and nature. Bluestone planks of varying widths create an urban surface in keeping with the library’s residential context and larger public role and are ‘removed’ to plant Sumac and low perennials. Benches are introduced in keeping with the grain of the bluestone pattern. The library landscape is porous visually, blending inside and outside, while providing quiet seating areas for rest and reading.
The above grade massing and material treatment responds to the very different site conditions on each elevation while adhering to required zoning setbacks and skyplanes, while the interior library spaces are left as open plans with reading rooms on all three levels. The north elevation functions as a picture-window into and out of the second floor children’s area, while also satisfying the Library’s desire to provide a civic identity to the community. The word “search” is projected by sunlight through letters on the film in the parapet onto the glass curtain wall, varying in scale and legibility as a result of the time of day, degree of sunlight, and season.
Graphics sandwiched in the glass wrapping along the building at street level on the north and west elevations create both an internal and external beacon at grade. The pattern on the graphic film interlayer allows the building to be read at multiple scales, while the pattern doubles as a screen to filter western sun, reducing heat loads in the summer months.
The east and south elevations provide an economical and contextually novel solution that merges the scale of the library and its residential adjacencies. Cement board panels are fastened with polished stainless steel discs that reflect surrounding houses and landscape creating the effect of a “low resolution” pixelated image of the neighborhood.