Portola Branch Library

Like an intriguing mystery novel, the new Portola Branch Library is designed to stimulate interest at the opening line. At the western entrance browsers find themselves looking down the spine of the library, with the light filled periodical room beckoning the reader to stay. The corner periodical room windows features an art glass installation created by artist Dana Zed that echoes the shape of open books and refracts the incoming light in the manner of stained glass.

The single-story, 6,300-square-foot building is the culmination of creative collaboration among the San Francisco Public Library, the joint venture of Noll Tam Architects and Stoner Meek Architects, the San Francisco Department of Public Works, and the Portola community. The new library, nestled between two public schools, now offers the neighborhood an expanded book selection, a designated teen space and distinct childrens room, multilingual materials to support an increasingly diverse population, and a flexible multipurpose room for after hour events which can be separately entered thru the new side garden. Bordering a schoolyard, this garden is filled with plants that have historical papermaking connections.

The design is focused on creating a feeling of transparency to engage the passersby. The buildings southern wall directly adjacent to the sidewalk consists of a series of folded planes, modeled to resemble opened books, with tall windows between the planes. The forms, evocative and symbolic, are designed to give oblique views of the street and to modulate light. Daylight bounces and flows across the folded forms of the walls, creating an ever-changing play throughout the day. Light is thoughtfully brought into the building in other ways and places, providing natural illumination, and helping to organize and differentiate spaces in the building.

Project Type


San Francisco,