Architect: HGA Architects and Engineers
Owners: City of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Public Library Board of Trustees
Contractor: Scherrer Construction Co., Inc.
East Library located on this vibrant downtown site, was designed with attention to a retail philosophy about the high value of the storefront - displaying a new 21st Century library environment as a civic destination, transformed into a relevant communal place. It is a place of intergenerational gathering welcoming the diverse community at large.to gather, read and learn. Prominent features include: the North Avenue “Living Room,” – complete with a donor funded fireplace which literally serves as the hearth for this east side neighborhood. The library is complete with meeting and study rooms; collaboration areas; desktop, laptop and tablet computers for check out increase computer use and customer comfort; and spatial variety creates unique, age-specific spaces filled with deep physical and electronic collections for adults, children and teens. Automatic material handling equipment and express check stations reduce repetitive motions for staff and free up staff time for more personalized, customer centric tasks.
Memorable artifacts of the former library were salvaged and reused to honor the library’s history on the site and to create a sense of place. During demolition, the original Conrad Schmitt Studios-designed slab glass panels were recovered and used as inspiration for the interior material palette, and were reassembled to form an illuminated ribbon of color. Tongue and groove wood ceiling boards were reclaimed to create the ceiling of the children and adult collections. These boards were milled and installed into a custom steel frame to add warmth and intimacy as well as to conceal lighting, sprinklers, HVAC diffusers. Five-inch structural glue-laminated timber beams were also salvaged and fabricated to create laptop bars along the exterior windows and a bench at the main entry.
The library design organizes the collections around a “marketplace” spine to provide customers with convenient access to library staff, reserved materials and express checks for those who want an independent library experience. Mobile displays merchandising new materials and information fill the market place reinforcing this as a “retail” environment. The market is intentionally a high activity area, centralizing noise and patron traffic in a single zone, while allowing noise to dissipate in the quieter areas of the library.
The elliptical, community meeting room is at the heart of the new library. It encourages patrons to circulate around the room and is constructed of translucent channel glass, allowing natural light into the room itself as well as into the library spaces beyond. The room features full height, custom pivot wooden doors on both ends of the room which allow the room to be permeable. Left open, the room invites people to use the room as a quiet reading area; or closed, the room becomes a private space for meetings and programs.
Public art was integrated into the project. The rock and pebble sculptures create exterior seating to enliven the landscape and serves as wayfinding tools for the library’s main entry. Interior artwork includes a topographical map of Milwaukee’s East Side, featured near the entry. A bench, made from a section of an elm tree previously located near the former library entry, cantilevers off of a column and provides lobby seating and a place for contemplation. A third local artist created murals comprised of architectural photos taken near existing Milwaukee Public Library branches, creating a bold graphic treatment for the ceiling of the community room and the prominent wall of the living room.
Photo: JK Fotos