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A group led by former presidential candidate Ralph Nader has been fighting the redevelopment of the West End Library, partly on the grounds that a library shouldn’t be part of a mixed-use, public-private development. (The building, developed by Eastbanc, includes apartments and a cafe.) Nader’s concerns extend beyond simple design—-he worries about city favoritism toward Eastbanc that gives taxpayers a bad deal—-but I thought I’d see if the mixed-use nature of the building impeded the library’s design.
So I spoke with Allison Cooke, the director of hospitality design at the Core Group, the interior architect for the library. Cooke says the restrictions did limit Core’s options in designing the space, compared with D.C.’s other libraries, which are freestanding. (Core, which collaborated with design architect TEN Arquitectos on West End, also worked on the Mount Pleasant and Rosedale libraries.)
“With the whole mix that they needed to achieve financially and with the retail spaces and the residential units upstairs, there were a lot of things that they wanted to work around,” says Cooke. “So the library was left with this L-shaped space.”
But Cooke says her colleagues were able to turn the unusual shape to their advantage. Visitors will enter at the bend of the L and have the option of going to the children’s area—-which is afforded additional privacy by the building shape—-or the adult area.
“It actually worked out really well, even though they couldn’t affect the footprint of the space that they had,” she says.
Cooke adds that the presence of an adjacent cafe will also be a plus. During operating hours, the library will be able to draw open a curtain separating it from the cafe, allowing patrons to read a book over coffee and adding “much more of this bookstore type of feel.”
Additionally, the library’s public meeting room, with an off-hours entrance, will serve as an amenity to the residents upstairs, who in turn will likely be regular patrons of the library.
“I think that the retail and residential mix in that building will drive a lot more foot traffic into that branch,” says Cooke.
So overall, was the mixed-use nature of the building a pro or a con in designing the library? According to Cooke, it was “kind of a wash.”
A few renderings below:
Correction: This post initially stated that Core was the interior architect for the building. In fact, it’s just the architect for the library. I apologize for the error.
Renderings courtesy of Core