In June 2008 a destructive flood swept through Cedar Rapids. Hundreds of homes and businesses were lost including some of the city’s most prominent public structures such as the Courthouse, the City Hall and the 25-year old Public Library. The loss of the library was particularly devastating. Everything on the first floor of the 85,000 square foot facility – which occupied a city block – was lost to the flood including the entire adult and youth collections, public access computers, computer labs, and a state of the art check-out system. Approximately 200,000 items in the collection were ruined. In addition, thousands of furniture items and pieces of electronic equipment were destroyed. OPN quickly stepped in to assist by helping design temporary library spaces downtown and in a shopping center on the west side of the city. Meanwhile the community coalesced around the need to rebuild the public library. A dedicated team of community volunteers and the Library Board of Trustees kicked off a campaign to re-envision how the library should function and to find a new home for this important public resource.
The new site for the new library fronts Greene Square, a park within the urban core. Book ending the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, this library completes a larger urban dialogue and civic oriented zone. The building not only completes the urban edge fronting the park, but also steps back to create a large urban plaza, an extension of the public space of the park and street. As the entire building aims to reveal inner functions to the public, it also offers patrons and building users unprecedented views to the urban and park settings beyond, connecting them to civic art, public gathering spaces, and programmed events.
The new 95,000-square foot library is designed to be a vibrant, multipurpose destination and a space for the community to mix and collaborate. The design of the new library was driven by the desire to embrace openness, transparency and foster public engagement with and within the space. With those principles in mind, the team looked for innovative ways to present vistas and views throughout the structure while visually connecting the streetscape with the functions occurring within the building.
In keeping with the themes of openness and transparency, large expanses of glass occur at the first and second floors of the collection spaces. Views into the building frame the rhythmic placement of library stacks juxtaposed with a lively and active Children’s Collection. The views in and out of the collection spaces are seen from nearly every vantage point around the new library. A 200-seat auditorium situated on the second and third levels looks outward toward Greene Square. The auditorium stage is set against a curtain wall of glass allowing for the changing seasons and cityscape to serve as a living backdrop.
The central space of the library is the Service Core Zone. This space brings together all of the core patron services 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 2nd 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. Off the café is the Young Adult Area where rooms for gaming, study, and group work open to an active collection space. The Children’s Collection occupies the east portion of the first floor. 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 green roof.
The 24,000 sf green roof provides an attractive space for library patrons to gather while offering yet another set of views and visual access to the surrounding cityscape. Functionally, the roof will aid in waste water management while serving as an outdoor plaza to be used by individual visitors and for library-hosted and private events. Importantly, this space is the first publically-accessible green roof in Cedar Rapids.