The five best examples of library projects from across the country have been honored as part of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and American Library Association (ALA) 2023 AIA/ALA Library Building Awards.
“Award recipients must demonstrate design achievement, including a sense of place, purpose, ecology, environmental sustainability, and history,” the Institute shares.
A seven-person jury panel was selected to choose designs that best exemplify these characteristics. Projects included in this year’s list run the gamut from new construction to revitalization and adaptive reuse. Minneapolis-based MSR Design was notable as the only practice to place two projects on this year's list.
Woburn Public Library in Woburn, MA
Project excerpt: "Adding an additional 30,500 square feet to the historic Woburn, Massachusetts, public library, this simple but elegant contemporary expansion enhances rather than competes with the original design. Designed by Henry Hobson Richardson in 1876, the library has long occupied an elevated site at the center of Woburn and has been widely celebrated for its architectural majesty. The new addition marries past and present to shape a 21st-century library ready to serve a growing community. At 17,400 square feet, the original library, despite several programmatic expansions throughout its 140-year history, could no longer accommodate Woburn’s needs. In 2014, after four rounds of applications across 20 years, the state’s board of library commissioners approved funding for an addition that would bring the library into the modern age."
Atherton Library in Atherton, CA
Project excerpt: "A centerpiece of Atherton, California’s decades-long quest to revitalize its aging town square, the town’s new library is a welcoming oasis and a prime destination for the community. The LEED Gold-certified and zero net energy-ready building is reflective of the modern library’s evolution from simple book depository to vibrant civic hub. It replaces a much older facility with nearly double the square footage and a wide range of programs that reinforce San Mateo County Libraries’ tagline, Open for Exploration. The new light-filled library sits on the same wooded site as the town’s recently constructed civic center and is adjacent to Atherton’s historic town hall, which was also seismically retrofitted and modernized to serve as the library event space. The library connects to the hall through a grand front porch and other nearby structures through planted pathways and ample windows."
Missoula Public Library New Main Library in Missoula, MT
MSR Design and A&E Design
Project excerpt: "Combining several community organizations under one roof, Missoula, Montana’s new main library is a vibrant cultural hub for the region. Serving more than 120,000 residents, most of whom live in small mountain and rural towns, the library does a lot with a little, an ethos reinforced by its budget and the state’s penchant for conservation and utility. The library is situated in the heart of Missoula’s walkable downtown and is highly visible from the city’s main arteries. Standing tall on Main Street, the library retracts as it opens to the Clark Fork River, an adjacent park, and a residential neighborhood. The building’s shifting scale unites its urban and residential surroundings, and the design provides multiple access points for those caught in bad weather as they use the popular riverfront walking paths that lead downtown."
Louisville Free Public Library Northeast Regional Library in Louisville, KY
MSR Design and JRA Architects
Project excerpt: "This project is the final of three regional libraries to be updated through an ambitious, decade-long master planning and revitalization effort by the Louisville Free Public Library system. Situated on a once-neglected green space associated with the historic Italianate-style Bellevoir Mansion, the new library replaces a much smaller and outdated facility and has transformed the site into a new park centered on lifelong learning. A core goal for the new building is to honor its historically meaningful context. The team’s design for the library respects the scale of the mansion, preserves nearly all of the mature trees on the site, and sensitively integrates a series of extended walking paths for patrons, staff, and nearby businesses to utilize. The site, a convenient location for more than 120,000 residents, allows the library to offer both indoor and outdoor programming that supports learning and wellness, and the team’s design offers more program space while still maintaining material counts that adhere to community needs. With nearly 4,000 fewer gross square feet, it boasts more services than its peers in the system."
Student Success District, University of Arizona in Tuscon, AZ
The Miller Hull Partnership and Poster Mirto McDonald
Project excerpt: "This project, on University of Arizona’s Tucson campus, unites the school’s essential yet siloed student support services. While comprehensive in nature, involving campus planning, exterior site improvements, and architectural interventions, the project is rooted in the transformation and connection of interior spaces to offer students elevated experiences. The project hinged on revitalizing three existing buildings and constructing a new one to centralize all services along the campus’ main mall. Constructed in the 1960s and ’70s, the university’s two libraries suffered from pancake floor plans and no little to no access to daylight. Between them sits Bear Down Gymnasium, a landmark structure that was once the campus fitness hub but had been relegated to a cubicle farm supporting various student service programs. All three buildings were disconnected from each other and hamstrung by band-aid solutions to the interiors that created isolated, and in some cases, inhumane experiences."
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