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D.C. Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper is nearing the end of her library building streak, with striking new facilities now open in Anacostia, Shaw, Minnesota-Benning, and Tenleytown. Her last two, in Bellevue and Hillcrest and both designed by London-based architect David Adjaye, might be the most bizarre and wonderful yet.
Tucked off South Capitol Street in Ward 8, the Bellevue Library is one of the system’s few three-story libraries, by virtue of its small site. But that’s not the only irregular thing about it. I was hard pressed to find a right angle in the whole space: Different rooms for teens, adults, and kids are blurbed out of the main floor, which is shot through with a chartreuse glass-encased light well. It’s scheduled to open next month, but there was a small manufacturing delay this week, due to a hiccup in delivery of specially-made wall panels. Cooper told a National Building Museum-organized tour group this weekend that the contractor had been warned.
“It’s the most complicated building you’ll ever do,” she said. “You might not make much money, but we’ll all be known for the quality of this building when we’re through.”
Out of all the libraries so far, the Bellevue branch does the most to play with light. In addition to the light well, there’s also a mesh wall with plants growing all over it, and whole glass walls in the smaller rooms that make them look as if they open into the sky. Vertical “fins” on the outside—-similar to those on the Tenleytown library—-break up the intense sunlight as it enters, as do dark, intense reds and greens on the walls. The internal lights are long, thin rectangles that radiate like asterisks.
The coolest thing, though, is what’s starting to happen around the library: Community of Hope will inhabit a new four-story medical office building across the street, Trinity Plaza will be breaking ground next door within months, and CityInterests is still planning its long-delayed South Capitol Street Shopping Center. Sure, the library didn’t cause all that, but local ANC commissioner and Friends of the Bellevue Library president Dionne Brown says she’s fielded calls from developers excited about the new building, which is totally unlike anything the neighborhood has ever seen. “It created a signal,” Brown says. “It created a ripple in the local economy.”