The Libbie Mill Library Story-Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts on Henrico County’s newest library, Libbie Mill that captures all of the aspects of our thinking and design process for this special place. The 60,000 square foot library has been envisioned as a hub for learning, positive individual transformation and community advancement in the center of Libbie Mill Midtown, a new 80-acre mixed use urban development west of Staples Mill Road in the center of Henrico. The library’s civic presence at the heart of Libbie Mill Midtown will contribute to the overall urban fabric of this pedestrian scaled community. 

The Libbie Mill Library Story- Part 3

As noted in our last blog, the Library’s exterior form and materials offer a more contemporary interpretation of the industrial aesthetic. The interior response follows course, but varies slightly from the clean lines and order of the Library’s exterior. The interior more literally incorporates design elements reminiscent of old warehouses, while expressing them in a modern and more refined manner.

Organizationally, the functional areas of the Library follow a logical approach. The first floor houses the welcome zone, public meeting room, periodicals, and children’s area. The adult and teen areas share the second floor with group study rooms, the digital media lab, and other collaborative spaces. The third floor, unfinished at the time of this post, is envisioned as a large library system-wide maker space.

On each floor, patrons can appreciate and understand the entirety of the building volume and feel connected to the world outside the Library through the expansive amounts of exterior glass. In all public areas the building structure is left partially exposed, maximizing the sense of openness. Acoustical ceiling planes, which don’t touch the spaces’ enclosing walls, are strategically placed to reinforce functions below. Ductwork, piping, conduit and the structure above and around these ceiling planes are all painted in dark, monochromatic colors; thus becoming a wonderful textural study of the building’s core systems.

Reinforcing the Library’s themes of openness and connectedness, glass is used extensively inside the Library. Where dictated by functional requirements, full height glass partitions provide physical separation without compromising views from one space to another. Larger spaces, such as the children’s program room and digital media lab, have articulating glass partitions that provide necessary enclosure when use demands and maximum program flexibility when open. Other smaller functional elements have been designed to feel like rooms within a room – new elements inserted into the larger volume of the library. The glass and wood partitions that define the group study rooms don’t rise to the ceiling plane above, but rather are capped by wood-clad ceiling planes that create an intimate scale appropriate to purpose. In the children’s area, several child-scaled “boxes” cantilever beyond the building façade – offering an inviting, cozy space for reading a book or simply viewing the world beyond.

In order to provide a sense of vertical connectedness for the patron, a large monumental glass-enclosed stair rises from the first floor welcome zone’s northern edge to connect all three floors.  When the stair reaches the second level, the floor is held back from the exterior wall, thus creating a two-story atrium offering patrons an unobstructed view of the public plaza and the community beyond. On the second floor, two wood-clad group study spaces cantilever into the atrium’s volume. The end walls of these perches are clad completely in glass.

Casual seating for adult patrons has been concentrated on the Library’s cantilevered north and east edges, where expansive amounts of exterior glass frame views of the development beyond while providing wonderfully day lit “living room like” spaces for individual study or reading.

The building finishes further reinforce the concept of a modern warehouse aesthetic. Intended for a range of spaces whose functions vary from active group collaboration to quiet focused study, the overall color scheme for the interior is founded on a palette of neutrals – camel, tobacco, dark brown, and rust – which are evocative of older historical structures. This color foundation is punctuated with black, cobalt, navy, chartreuse, magenta, and vermillion accents, which add vibrancy and energy. All of these colors are carefully woven into a various collections of finishes throughout the library, appropriate to both the age of the patron and the function of the space. The severity of exposed structural elements, blackened steel plate, and stained concrete floors is complemented by warm toned wood paneling, cork flooring, richly patterned carpets, and custom wall coverings.

Lighting was carefully designed to reinforce and complement the interior architecture. Several different types of slender linear LED fixtures are used thematically throughout the public spaces. Whether set flush into long acoustical plank ceilings, suspended from acoustical clouds, or cantilevered from book stacks; each fixture’s minimalist design reinforces the Library’s spatial openness. In contrast, playful, eye-catching collections of pendants draw patrons outward to the north and east perimeter reading areas. At night, these fixtures are plainly in view from around the development – further announcing the Library as a beacon within the community.

The variety of spatial design, interior materials and finishes, and lighting have all been carefully created to balance the rawness of an industrial aesthetic with the necessary refinement of a modern public library, meeting the needs of both today’s patrons and those of future generations.

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