Central Library, designed by Cass Gilbert, is located in the urban core of St. Louis. Housed in a landmark building since 1912, this public institution provides citizenry-free access to information and knowledge. Nearing the building’s 100-year anniversary, the library not only contemplated renovating the building but also sought a transformative restoration that would increase public access, modernize the library for the 21st century, and enhance the building’s stature as a cultural treasure.
The original building features a ceremonial granite staircase that leads to the vaulted reception foyer from which patrons proceed to the centrally located Great Hall. The North Wing departs from the building’s Renaissance style and features a series of tall, slim windows to admit filtered light into the closed stack area. A structurally independent steel skeleton serves as a “building within the building” to house book collections and needed to be replaced.The North Wing transformation brings the library into the 21st century – featuring the insertion of a new “building within the building.” Now, a multi-story public atrium provides an accessible and welcoming entry.
Glass enclosed upper levels house the collection with compact high-density bookshelves. These books, reminiscent of the old stacks, are visible to the public as important elements of space. The north wall windows bounce natural light deep into the interior. A new public entry, which opens the building to surrounding urban neighborhoods, defers to Gilbert’s original façade as a canopy that arises from a pool of water without touching the building. Thousands of book titles are engraved on the canopy’s supporting columns. The Great Hall and four public wings are restored and revitalized to their turn-of-the-century splendor. Existing space within the building footprint is reimagined to create new and enlarged public areas.