A 2015 National AIA / ALA Library Building Award winner, Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects' design of the new Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center for the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) is based on experiential learning, where children are educated through hands on activities that teach life skills needed to become responsible adults.
Referred to as a “community-embedded, supportive learning center,” this library offers not only books, but also a performance space, a teaching kitchen, a greenhouse and vegetable garden, and an arboretum. The Director of the Library System’s challenge was to create a playground without equipment, where nature and imagination combine to create grand adventures on a six-acre natural site in the heart of the capital city.
A charette held with children uncovered a surprising result: their top desire wasn’t for the latest video games… they were concerned about food security – they wanted to learn how to feed themselves. Children also wanted a place that was uplifting, inspirational, and full of natural light, while feeling safe and secure. They wanted a place that “lifted expectations”.
The site became an education experience, emphasizing teaching hands-on skills, such as gardening and food preparation. The architecture’s inspiration is based on the childhood memories of many Arkansans, growing up in rural areas where playgrounds were really fields, creeks, utilitarian structures such as barns, sheds, and the constructed forts built by their own hands – something inner-city kids rarely experience; children created their own adventures… The library acts as a large shed in the woods: its roof lifts to the sky as the site falls, sheltering spaces within while visually opening to the site’s restored ecosystem. The architecture speaks of sustainability and the technical nature of construction, expressing all connections and systems, much like a child’s erector set. The building is a teacher.
The Children’s Library was awarded LEED Gold Certification, as well as an American Architecture Award from the Chicago Athenaeum in 2014 and an AISC Ideas2 Award in 2016. The AIA Arkansas Honor Award winning project was also voted by the membership as their favorite project for 2013, and was honored with an AIA Gulf States Award in 2017 as well.