The Austin Chronicle

Central Library Design Aims for Adaptability

By Katherine Gregor, January 8, 2010, News

"Libraries have become far more flexible in how they serve the community," architect David Lake noted recently. "If you want a sustainable 100-year building, you want one that can adapt easily over time – with components, modular thinking, highly adaptable spaces. For long life, you want a loose fit – like a good pair of blue jeans."

Lake, who leads the design of Austin's new central library for Lake|Flato, said the design team is currently reconciling wish lists with budgetary realities. Collaborating architectural firm Shepley Bulfinch is leading the programming phase; the work reflects ideas and input gathered from Austinites and library staff at a series of meetings in November. (To see the input gathered so far, visit; further comments can be posted at A program for the library is headed toward City Council in February; it will define the activities, functions, operations, and users and provide corresponding spaces and features. Design work will begin once the final program is approved, perhaps in March.

The design team is also considering how the library will interact with the site and surrounding urban fabric. "We are keen on making this library a gateway to Downtown, Lady Bird Lake, Shoal Creek, and the trail system," said Lake. The building will be sited right on the shore of Shoal Creek, across Cesar Chavez from the lake. "Libraries are becoming more public-spirited buildings – a city living room," he said. "For Austin, it makes perfect sense to engage the creek and the river. Wouldn't it be great if people could sit out on the library's porch?"

Because the architects' scope of work, project budget, and site definition hadn't initially allowed for fully realizing the site's full potential, the mayor's office recently invited key city executive-team members to meet together with Lake; department heads and other senior staff discussed how to best collaborate on site issues.

Lake said the design team held a special sustainability design charrette to look at issues like "daylight, energy performance, and having the least possible impact on the environment." They're also considering linkages with the new library: the extension of Second Street, the Lance Armstrong Bikeway and Cesar Chavez, and the complex, large-scale Seaholm and Project Green sites that bookend the site. "Austin is lucky to have the developers they have, who care about the community," said Lake.

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