Reflective Learning Oasis

Nestled among trees on a wooded patch in Louisville, Ky., South Central Regional Library connects with, and blends in with, its surroundings. Its shape, building materials and floor plan contribute to the effect.

Form, materials, layout connect library with forest

By Christopher Brinckerhoff
Photo: Brandon Stengel, Farm Kid Studios

Louisville-based JRA Architects Inc., Minneapolis-based MSR Design, MKSK Studios’ Louisville office and Louisville Free Public Library staff designed the library to attract patrons, which it has done since opening in July 2017. It attracted the attention of the Metal Construction News Building and Roofing Awards judging panel as well. The judges gave it a Judges Award and praised the design for complementing the trees with its nonlinear façades and windows, cohesive forms and palette of building materials.

Daylighting and Drawing Attention

The library has a long, horizontal form that contrasts with, and emphasizes, strong vertical lines created by bordering trees. Metal paneling, wood paneling, gray plaster and wide sections of glazing reflect the site, and connect the building to it.

Overall, Colin Drake, AIA, LEED AP, principal at JRA Architects, says the form of the building is driven by three core principles: daylighting the interior, attracting the public and incorporating the forest. “At its core, the building is a very simple, long-span shed whose façades are folded to shade harsh summer sunlight, and punctured to capture daylight and connect visitors to the most compelling parts of the surrounding forest,” he says. “The glazing was positioned on the façade to maximize daylighting for the interior, yet shield it from direct summer sun. The metal skin was then applied to these various building faces to offer a humanizing scale to the building and introduce a richness of texture that reveals itself both from a distance and upon closer inspection.”

In terms of drawing attention, long, triangular, nonlinear bands of glazing and metal- and plaster-clad walls wrap around the entire structure. “The building’s very horizontal form deliberately contrasts with the verticality of the forest to reinforce the striking geometry of both,” Drake says.

Where the library is most visible to the public, on the east side where there is roadway, walls are clad in mirror-polished stainless steel and appear to fold down from the roof to the ground. Additionally, at the southeast corner of the building’s rectangular footprint, a skewed bay, which houses space for teens, juts out.

Matt Kruntorad, AIA, LEED, principal at MSR Design, says, “The east façade composition combines our strong desire for a beacon, landmark moment with a desire to reduce the scale of a very large building as it pushes up against a pedestrian landscape. The mirror occupies the most prominent location, where it reflects both the landscape and the surrounding streetscape to create a more dynamic expression. The building takes on an origami-like quality, literally leaning out toward the primary street intersection to catch the community’s attention.”

Photo: Brandon Stengel, Farm Kid Studios

Reflecting, Blending Materials

The exterior has two types of stainless steel panels (mirror polished and brushed), gray plaster and wood panels for ceilings at overhangs. All the building materials reflect the surrounding area or blend into it.

For example, Matt Frazure, library manager of design and construction at Louisville Free Public Library, says, “As the sky changes color throughout the day, and as the landscape evolves throughout the year, these sides of the building are constantly changing as well. The forest sides of the building were clad in a matte, lime-based plaster whose neutral, gray color was selected to approximate the shadows of the tree canopy and effectively camouflage the structure within the forest.”

On the exterior and inside the library, Louisville-based American Roofing and Metal Co. Inc. fabricated and installed 16,000 square feet of Gary, Ind.-based Phoenix Metals Co.’s 0.025-inch (24-gauge), type 316 stainless steel. The horizontal panels are 117 inches long by 13 inches wide, one third of conventional flat panels, cut lengthwise. Buffalo, N.Y.-based Rigidized Metals Corp. embossed the stainless steel with a linear, micro-embossing pattern.

For glazing, Louisville-based Kentucky Mirror and Plate Glass Co. installed Norcross, Ga.-based Kawneer Co. Inc.’s curtainwall where openings were more than 12 feet high, and Kawneer’s storefront systems at shorter locations.

Photo: Brandon Stengel, Farm Kid Studios

Open Layout

Inside the library, abundant glazing fills the space with daylight and frames views of the forest. “A patron’s first impression upon entering is the framed views of the forest outside the north façade,” Drake says. “Wide walking boulevards connect visitors from the entrance to all of the main functions of the building in an intuitive way that reduces the need for staff assistance or signage.”