Varina Area Library-What to Expect

On October 29, 2015 Henrico County opened the new Libbie Mill Library to a fantastic public response. On average, since opening over 1,100 patrons visit the library each day. In less than 30 days the new Varina Area Library will open on the opposite side of the County. This is the first in a series of blogs offering insight into the design of this exciting new library.

Both libraries were designed in response to the same library service model and therefore incorporate many of the same functions and types of spaces. However, the designs are intentionally different in their response to the unique character and needs of the surrounding communities.  BCWH and our library design partner, Tappé Architects, worked closely with Henrico County to carefully study the communities and develop design strategies appropriate for each library.

Building Location

Libbie Mill Library is situated as the civic epicenter of an urban mixed-use development.  The design strives for formality and prominence on a very small site amongst the surrounding backdrop of commercial, retail, and residential buildings.

In contrast, the Varina Area Library sits at the center of a 22 acre site on the edge of the agrarian plains of the County’s mostly rural Varina District. The building is nestled into a hill overlooking the riparian floodplains of the James River. The library’s design strives to be rooted in the landscape and the history of the Varina District literally and figuratively.  Stone walls provide a solid foundation for the building and reference the stone walls lining nearby farm fields. Earthen berms planted with meadow grasses shield the view of parked cars from the entry drive, and hint at the forms of the Civil War earthworks still visible down the road at Fort Harrison.  Gable roof forms, vertical-seamed metal panels and wood siding allude to vernacular agricultural buildings.

Varina Library_RearView

Building Surroundings

Libbie Mill Library is situated on its site in a very formal, urban manner.  Views to the exterior are controlled and influenced by the surrounding urban fabric.

Varina Area Library has been carefully placed on its undeveloped site. The building is composed of three pavilions connected by glass-enclosed circulation spaces.  The pedestrian approach to the front door from the parking lot weaves through native meadow grasses and trees.  From the entry plaza, the glass enclosures between pavilions frame views through the library and out over the floodplains of Cornelius Creek.  Upon entering, the main lobby provides a two-story view into the wetlands and drops down to a lower level with access to exterior patios and amphitheaters.  Throughout the building clerestories, floor-to-ceiling window-walls, and skylights provide constant and controlled daylight and views to the outside,  visually connecting visitors to the surrounding ecosystem.

Varina Library_FrontView

Community Connection

Libbie Mill Library’s location amidst a large pedestrian-oriented development provides plenty of community gathering spaces in the surrounding urban landscape.

Varina Area Library sits alone on its large site with no other public places nearby. Its design accommodates a variety of different types of community gatherings.

An outdoor plaza at the front of the building is shaded by an 80-year-old oak tree. The plaza can host book sales, farmers markets, outdoor concerts, and festivals.  It’s a cool place for cyclists passing by on the Capitol Trail to rest and a great place for library patrons to simply hang out during the day.

Varina Library_FrontEntry

The library’s interior central atrium features tiered bleacher style seating and a movie theater-sized projection screen for hosting film-festivals, TED talks, visiting authors, and presentations of all types.

Varina Library_InteriorStair

Life-Long Learning

A mission to encourage and enable life-long learning is at the center of our firms’ work, with the Libbie Mill and Varina Area Libraries being no exception.

The Varina Library features several unique learning spaces and programmatic elements that facilitate project-based learning pedagogies.

The Digital Media Lab provides the tools to create, manipulate, edit, and publish patron content. Its companion, the Digital Capture Lab, is designed as a mini-green room and recording studio for video/audio content creation.


The large public Meeting Room is equipped with a Demonstration Kitchen that provides the opportunity for local chefs to gather ingredients sold at the farmers market happening on the plaza and connect patrons with hyper-local food sources and recipes.


More casual learning spaces are integrated throughout the library in the form of private and group study rooms outfitted with mobile, adaptable furniture to promote various learning, working, and collaborating styles.


While both the Libbie Mill and Varina Area Libraries offer state-of-the-art library services, their designs are dramatically different, each a response to their unique community’s needs.

The design of the Varina Area Library attempts to embody and celebrate the history, heritage, geography and ecology of the Varina District.  At the same time it is a high-performing learning space, providing access to the latest digital technologies and information sources, and the tools, furniture and spaces to use and collaborate with them.

The Varina Area Library opens to the public on June 2, 2016.

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