The recently completed Dorothy I. Height/Benning Library, opened in April 2010, is the first in a series of new libraries in Washington, D.C. that are designed to be flexible and open, to meet the needs of the community now and in the future. Located on a sloped site along Benning Road, N.E., the building is terraced into the terrain allowing access from both Benning Road at the upper level and from a commercial shopping area at the lower level. The two floors of the 22,000 square foot, 12 million facility are connected by a public stair inside the building, creating a space which encourages pedestrian circulation through the library in order to connect one street elevation to another. Dorothy I. Height/Benning Library utilizes a warm color palette of earth tones and a copper panel facade to complement its residential setting.
The facade of the building is comprised of approximately 315 copper panels. Housing the library reading rooms and administrative spaces on the buildings upper level, the cladding is 16 oz copper arranged in 18 panel widths with 1 standing seams. The copper panels were chosen to reflect the sun and provide a warm glow in the late afternoon. The quality and nature of light was an important factor in the design approach and the library is situated in a bowl-like condition with ample southern exposure. The panels were also selected because of their high recycled material content, and ease of maintenance. Copper has the unusual quality of aging gracefully into a patina. The rustic nature of the material used on an uncompromisingly contemporary design gave the face a depth of visual interest.
The architectural process involved a series of community design meetings which encouraged input from residents. The completed facility includes community spaces on the lower level including a 100-person multi-purpose room, two 12-person conference rooms and a public gathering and exhibition space. The upper level of the library houses the librarys collection, which on opening day included 40,000 books, DVDs, CDs and other library materials. The library has space to allow the collection to expand to up to 80,000 items. Additionally, the upper level features separate reading areas for adults, teens and children, as well as the childrens program area. Five small study rooms offer opportunities for quiet study or tutoring sessions. The library has 32 computers for public use, providing internet access to all in the community. Showcasing the talent within the local community Dorothy I. Height/Benning Library serves, the library interiors are accented by the artwork of noted muralist Rik Freeman as well as Life Pieces to Masterpiecesa community organization which offers creative curriculums to underserved African American males in Washington, DC.
Exceeding expectations, Dorothy I. Height/Benning Library was awarded a LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. The building incorporates a vegetative green roof, a displacement air system, solar control and daylight management and extensive use of recyclable and renewable materials. The green roof is comprised of a 4 deep planted extensive sedum vegetative carpet on 4 of rigid insulation over a waterproofing layer on metal deck roof assembly. The green roof will reduce heating and cooling loads, reduce storm water runoff and introduce 13,500 square feet of new, clean air producing vegetation to the community.
A true testament to the success of the library is the sustained enthusiasm of its patrons. Ginnie Cooper, Chief Librarian of DC Public Library reported in June 2010, A thousand new library cards have been issued since the library opened in April, and the book borrowing rate in the first month was equal to three months of borrowing in the previous space, says Cooper. We take great pleasure in knowing that these talented architects have applied their high standards of quality in designing a fine building for this community. Its a community that really needs a good library, and the people love it.