Modern Library Design Meets Rural Varina
The forthcoming opening of the new Varina Area Library is an important event for residents of Henrico County’s Varina District! The 40,000 square foot Library replaces the existing 5,000 square foot branch a short distance away. The new Library will be a unique destination within the District for learning and exchanging information, and will provide opportunities for community-building. The building’s coherent interior and exterior architectural language takes both its inspiration and its form from its natural and historic surroundings.
The architecture of the building was inspired by traditional farm typologies given the site on which it sits is a former farm, one of several in the surrounding area. Borrowing on the form of a tobacco barn, the main program areas are house in three pavilions that sit seemingly independently on the site. The Library’s service and secondary functions are located adjacent to the pavilions in lower scale extensions – structures that reinterpret an addition to or extension of a typical utilitarian farm building. Finally, the pavilions are connected by “wedge” shaped spaces that provide programmatic opportunities for informal reading, group gatherings, or the simple enjoyment of the framed views of the wetlands outside.
Both interior and exterior materials are inspired by materials found recurrently in the surrounding community. The palette is simple but rich: wood, stone, and metal. Inside, these elements are integrated with simple white walls and ceiling to shape the larger volumes of the pavilions. The end of each is closed by large expansions of glass that maximize views and allow large amounts natural light to enhance the interior architectural shapes. The furniture, light fixtures, and finishes organically reinforce the overall idea of a simple and refined building that converses with the natural setting.
The transition of landscape from once-cultivated farmland sloping into wetlands provides an opportunity for the building to be a threshold between two ecosystems. The building design reflects the environmental surroundings as well as connects to its historical roots. The landscape design provides a series of “outdoor rooms” that are well-defined by three recurring design elements: berms that recall the area’s still visible Civil War trenches; high grasses, which gesture towards the pastoral landscape; and finally, the new trees that help shape and delineate the new outdoor public spaces.
Preserved from the original property, a mature oak tree sits at the main entrance of the library serving as a symbol of the seamless integration of past and present, with the green space around it transformed into a community gathering spot for book sales, farmers’ markets, or concerts.
The library opened to the public on June 2, 2016.