The fate of the library has been in jeopardy for decades now, as funding—and readers of physical books—continue to decline. While there are plenty of plans for revitalizing libraries, ranging from digitizing them to putting them inside of malls, a new neighborhood library from London architect David Adjaye reminds us of the simple pleasures of a beautiful reading room.
Francis George Library is located on a street-facing edge of Washington D.C.’s Fort Davis Park, built on the remains of a Civil War-era fort that was built to protect D.C. from confederate forces. Today, the park is a leafy respite from the unending stream of commuters heading into the Metro area. Adjaye, who was recently a judge for our Innovation by Design Awards, calls the library "a woodland folly," designed to attract visitors from the street and act as a gateway to the park behind it.
"Our mission, with the Francis Gregory Library, has been to offer a new way to experience books, reading, and storytelling," writes Adjaye. "Rather than a traditional closed building, this library is porous and open, with the canopy providing a welcoming entrance that invites people inside." The two-story structure is built on a smaller scale than most libraries, intended to give its 22,500 square feet an air of intimacy and familiarity. A massive steel overhang invites visitors in, echoing the facade checker pattern and offering shade. Inside, a sunny atrium gives way to a series of open reading rooms and a community meeting space. The idea, write the designers, is to extend the typical functions of the library. A reading room becomes a conference room when it’s not in use, and the atrium becomes an event space.
The library shines in its facade treatment, a diamond pattern that looks inspired by woven textiles. Each quadrilateral opening is built out in timber and faced with reflective glass, creating shimmering reflections of the surrounding trees. Some of the boxes have been made into seating, while others become ad-hoc apertures, offering glimpses of activity inside. "Viewed from the street, the building appears to flicker with the changing light, providing a lens through which to see into the park," add the architects. The cantilevered overhang and reflective low-E glass earned the building a LEED Silver rating.
Francis Gregory Library is one of two recent Adjaye-designed libraries in the D.C. area. The other—the nearby William O. Lockridge Library—opened on June 13th.