Case Studies

Woodridge Neighborhood Library – Bing Thom Architects (BTA)

Organized, yet free-flowing design builds collective learning

In the northeast corner of Washington, D.C., the Woodridge Neighborhood Library will soon open its doors to the public. The signature building stands as the “Castle atop the Hill,” overlooking the community as a promise of a prosperous future and strong sense of connectivity. The DC Public Library (DCPL) group has worked with Vancouver-based design architect Bing Thom Architects (BTA) and local architect-of-record, Wiencek + Associates, to design the new $16.5 million, 23,000-square-foot library, featuring both open spaces and quiet corners which cater to all ages — adults, teens and children.

BTA started in Vancouver in 1982, and since then the firm has made its name as an innovative, global architecture and urban design practice with a focus on institutional and cultural projects. The Woodridge Neighborhood Library is BTA’s second construction project in the greater D.C. area, following the successful opening of the Mead Center for American Theater at Arena Stage in 2010, and fits nicely into the firm’s niche focused on community-based buildings.

Woodridge Neighborhood Library - Bing Thom Architects (BTA)

As part of a citywide master plan established more than a decade ago, renovations are either completed, underway or planned for libraries throughout the DC Public Library system. “DCPL has actually compiled information and statistics about how when a new facility opens, there’s a significant jump in attendance,” says Brian Ackerman, senior project architect and associate at BTA.

Ackerman says there’s been great anticipation and excitement from the public for the launch of this project: “When the City started the initiative of renovating and replacing libraries across D.C., and after the first few buildings started to come online, the rest of the neighborhoods starting asking, ‘When is it our turn?’”

Castle atop the hill

The Woodridge Neighborhood Library will be an elegant box on the outside, which upon entering, angles and orients library patrons toward the sprawling Langdon Park. This picturesque setting for the iconic community structure has given the project the nickname “Castle atop the Hill.”

Beyond the library itself, BTA looked at the immediate surroundings and the need to strike a balance between the high-traffic road on one side and the peaceful neighborhood park on the other. “This is expressed in the industrial precast concrete on the outside, with a clean simple finish on the inside,” explains Ackerman. “The large window gestures to the park and the angled walls are in reaction to the number of angled streets directly adjacent to the site. We also didn’t want to create just another square box shape, so with the castle concept we sloped the exterior walls a few degrees from vertical, which gives the building a solid presence.”

The welcoming entrance leads to the main circulation area, flooded with abundant natural light and presents clear views through tall glass panels to the park outside. In terms of the interior, BTA wanted to break out of the usual library design concept. “In the beginning, we looked at a reoccurring trend in modern library design where so many are glass boxes. This results in the books being pushed into the middle of the building, which eliminates the perfect gathering space for the patrons, one of the main purposes of a library. We wanted to invert that concept,” explains Ackerman. “We pushed the books out to the perimeter walls to create open and more enjoyable gathering spaces for the community. While this creates a more solid building from the exterior, we then carefully created large window openings, which are surrounded by prismatic orange metal panels, directing ones view out to the landscape, along with smaller vertical slot windows to break down the overall building mass and allow more light to filter in.”

The exterior is clad in textured precast concrete panels, which extend up two stories to the planted roof. The third story contains a glass enclosed reading lounge, overlooking the planted green roof and terrace with a large solar canopy. “The canopy provides shade during the day and can be lit up at night,” says Ackerman. “When it’s lit up at night, it will become a beacon over the park.”

A vision for full functionality

BTA’s vision was a flexible, comfortable space, suited to meet a variety of needs. The new facility will be clearly organized, yet allow spaces to freely flow from one area to another, encouraging patrons to circulate, wander, and explore the different areas within the building, both inside and out.

The design focuses on all ages — adults, teens and children, and how to place both open and private spaces throughout the building. The new Woodridge Neighborhood Library will offer seating for 200 patrons, 40 computers, free high-speed Wi-Fi, a large meeting room that accommodates up 100 occupants, two conference rooms for up to 14 people each, as well as quiet study rooms and a rooftop terrace with seating space.

“The City requires a minimum of LEED Silver certification on all new projects, but we’re aiming for LEED Gold,” notes Ackerman. The accessible green roof is an essential part of BTA’s efforts to achieve LEED Gold at the Woodridge Neighborhood Library. “As a result, providing a green roof without allowing anyone to enjoy it seemed pointless,” he adds. “We decided to add a unique element to the project on the third floor, being a reading lounge,” says Ackerman.” This lounge, enclosed in glass, overlooks the green roof, as well as the park beyond. This circular reading room and lounge overlooks the floors below and can be used for book signings, lectures and discussions, or public readings — anything that brings people together.”

The team is now more than halfway through the construction of this two-year project. “In the beginning, soil issues slowed the process resulting in a need to redesign the foundation, and then stormwater management code revision necessitated further adjustments,” notes Ackerman. “Getting a city-owned project approved by the same city’s approval agency is not an easy process, as every single requirement is reviewed much more closely,” he adds. “The approval agency’s perspective being ‘if we can’t hold ourselves to our own standards, how can we with private developments?’”

Despite the handful of setbacks, the Woodridge Neighborhood Library is on track for summer 2016 completion. Once open, the library will serve as a community gathering place and beacon of collective learning.

Published on: August 2, 2016

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