In June 2008 a destructive flood swept through the city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa filling the city’s downtown central library with eight feet of water and damaging the building and materials beyond repair. In the wake of this unprecedented natural disaster, the city rallied to build a new central library that would establish the library as the dynamic center of the city’s urban core, embrace the transformational shifts of 21st Century technology; and minimize the building’s environmental impact and long-term operational costs.
The site of the new library fronts the city’s primary urban park and faces the Museum of Art on the opposite side. This placement of library, park and museum completes a larger urban dialogue and creates an active civic zone. The front façade of the library takes this dialogue further by stepping back to create a large urban plaza which functions as an extension of the public spaces of park and street.
From the exterior, the activity of the library is prominently on display through large expanses of floor-to-ceiling glass that wrap around the building on the first and second floor, visually connecting patrons and pedestrians. A 200-seat auditorium situated on the second and third levels looks outward toward Greene Square. The auditorium stage is set against a wall of glass allowing for the changing seasons and cityscape to serve as a living backdrop. As darkness falls, the undulating “skin” surrounding the auditorium begins to glow as 60 eight-foot-by-one-foot light panels brighten the façade. This language of light is carried inside the building with a dramatic monumental stair featuring illuminated panels that respond to building users as they walk up and down the stairs. The stairs and light wall are visible from the exterior, functioning as a kinetic sculpture and vividly telegraph the activity within the library to the street.
On the interior, the design maximizes flexibility and leverages new mobile and RFID technologies to meet the rapidly-changing needs of the 21st Century library. In the words of the library director, the new library needed to function “more like an Apple Store and less like the DMV.” Guided by that statement, gone are the dense book stacks, the traditional circulation desk and the security systems at the door. In their place are lower-height shelves that preserve views across the building and welcoming staff kiosks strategically placed throughout the collection space.
Upon entry, patrons step into a large central atrium where all of the core patron services are organized in a hub and spoke system allowing users to orient themselves in the building as well as gather to meet. The spaces and mixing of circulation paths is most clearly expressed within this zone. It is defined architecturally by the rake of the auditorium as it vaults over the first floor Adult Fiction collections and second floor “bridge” links within the Service Core. The zone was designed with clear sight lines and open vertical circulation to allow users to readily navigate their way to various destinations. A café and coffee shop is nestled in the core, enticing visitors to gather, linger and engage with each other. Radiating from the Service Core are the Children’s, Young Adult and Adult Fiction areas. The second floor consists of the Adult Non-Fiction collections, a large dividable conference space, and staff and administrative offices. The third floor consists of a break-out lobby for the Auditorium and public access to the building’s green roof.
The 24,000 square foot green roof was a key sustainability strategy and one of the unique design features that helped the library achieve LEED Platinum designation. The green roof features rainwater harvesting for irrigation and functionally aids in storm water management capturing up to 90% of normal annual rainfall and 100% of all rainfall up to 1”. The roof provides views to the surrounding cityscape and a vertical public extension of the park and plaza below. Outdoor furnishings and plantings create a comfortable plaza for patrons to gather. The roof has become a popular event space for the community to celebrate, supporting the role of the library as a vibrant civic hub.