The Miller Hull Partnership- Vancouver Community Library

Architype Dialogue presents

Ruth Baleiko & Craig Curtis

What was the most difficult issue about working within this building type or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought in your project?

Convincing a client who had worked out of a split level two story library for forty years that we could make a six story solution easy to operate and navigate was one of our biggest challenges.

To accomplish this, we developed two elements in the building to aid in navigation and client service. First, we created an iconic central stair with embedded wayfinding to intuitively guide people throughout the various floors. We also worked with staff to design custom mobile technology stations that support various functions: staff assistance, self-check of materials, internet research & catalog access. By making the design of these stations universal, they could be used by anyone, anytime—and be moved throughout the building as user patterns change.

Did this project expand or evolve your role as an architect in any way? In general, do you feel that the role of the architect is changing on current projects?

Absolutely, the role of the architect is evolving –as it should—in a world of blurred boundaries and cross-pollination. We find that it’s in that mindset of synergistic thinking where we can discover true breakthroughs for clients—breakthroughs that can change how they operate and function. For example, by creating the mobile staff stations, the library could supervise a much larger building without a drastic increase in staff—at a price competitive with an off-the-shelf workstation.

How is your building possible today in a way that it may not have been before and how have trends in technology and society inspired new thought and solutions?

As a 100-yr building, this library was intended to position itself at the crossroads of all media: written, spoken, virtual and physical. It was also envisioned to be flexible enough to accommodate inevitable future changes with regard to media, technology and information. Considering all the different media types libraries have stored over time, it’s tempting to think that the advent of new communication methods automatically dictates the extinction of older ones. However, this doesn’t recognize the merits of previous methods or devices—or that they could both exist simultaneously and complement each other. For instance, how can we make the digital collection more browsable? How can we use technology to grow a new generation of readers or information sharers? These are all questions that we discussed, and hope this building can respond to over time.

In the context of this project, how is your office and design process being influenced by current trends in academic curricula and incoming young architects? In turn, how are current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?

We feel our practice is stronger when we have a group of interns contributing to various projects. They bring idealism, as well as the ability to be free-thinking without constraints, and a desire to “be a sponge.” These qualities not only stretch the boundaries of our design explorations—they also represent the same feelings we hope library visitors embrace. At Fort Vancouver, the client tasked us with creating a place of discovery—whether it was someone’s first visit of their twentieth.

At the same time, we consciously strive to contribute to the intern’s academic growth. By working with teams in our office, they are able to see how “out-of-the-box” concepts go from ideation to manifestation. Interns are able to see how elements of the design process that aren’t taught in school directly affect the realization of creative ideas. They come to our office with almost an air of innocence: they have yet to be faced with daunting schedule or budget demands! We hope that our firm demonstrates how idealism and pragmatism can work together to create unique and powerful design solutions.

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