- AIA/ALA Awards: Louisville Free Public Library
In this day and age of technological progress leading the way to digital products, we might be forgiven for thinking that public libraries are on the way out. Still, despite technology hypothetically not requiring physical storage, the architecture of real library facilities continues to be extremely popular, not least of which because they are embracing a broader and more cross-cutting use than during the analogue era.
The importance of these buildings is celebrated by the American Institute of Architecture (AIA) with a special award presented in partnership with the American Library Association/Library Leadership and Management Association. The AIA/ALA Library Building Award is actually the only award in the world that recognises entire library structures and all aspects of their design. Louisville Free Public Library South Central Regional Library in Kentucky designed by MSR Design and JRA Architects is one of the six recipients.
This library in the trees is the second of three new regional libraries to be added to the Louisville Free Public Library system as part of the facilities master plan prepared by MSR. In Louisville, the library, with a total area of approximately 3,700 square metres sits delicately in a grove of 100-year-old trees, making it really stand out in a region of Kentucky where it’s standard practice to clear sites.
Tree preservation, daylight harvesting, and energy conservation serve as design guiding principles, and the library is certified LEED-NC v. 3 Gold, an icon of sustainability for the community it serves.
The design team - which also included landscape architect MKSK - oriented the new library on the site to facilitate conservation of the forest and to leverage optimal solar access. The library’s form was intentionally skewed to address the path of the sun, which allows light to pour in through an opening in the forest’s canopy.
Outside, the form provides shade in the summer and bounces reflected light into the interior during the winter. Rainwater collection and management reduces its environmental impact even further. There are also areas for reading and gathering that extend into the landscape through the large spans of glass providing inspiring views of the site and even outdoor seating.
Simple, industrial-style materials bring out the aesthetic appeal of this architecture even further, and the flexible interior spaces make it a perfect venue for community events and innovative programming, making it much more than just a library offering traditional services in an underserved neighbourhood in Kentucky's largest city. This has obviously helped it gain plenty of ground: the library issued nearly 3,000 new library cards within the first six months of operation. A huge success with the wider public that also made the jury sit up and take notice of the Louisville Free Public Library and make it one of the award recipients of the 2019 AIA/ALA Awards.
Project: MSR Design and JRA Architects
Landscape architecture: MKSK Architects
Location: Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Images: Brandon Stengel (www.farmkidstudios.com), MSR