Projects: Education

Durham County Main Library, Durham, N.C.

RETROFIT TEAM

Having achieved LEED Gold, the redesigned library is a sleek and modern building designed for the future. The project scope included the complete removal and replacement of the exterior skin, roofing, interior partitions, finishes and building systems.

ARCHITECT: Vines Architecture

GENERAL CONTRACTORS: Skanska and Holt Brothers Construction

MEP/FP ENGINEER: Stanford White

MATERIALS

Having achieved LEED Gold, the redesigned library is a sleek and modern building designed for the future. The project scope included the complete removal and replacement of the exterior skin, roofing, interior partitions, finishes and building systems.

The monumental staircase is one of the first things visitors see when they walk into the library. The wide, oak-stained steps and elevator shafts are reinforced with steel to support substantial shelves of books while allowing for glass partitions, curved walls and more modern open floorplans.

BEFORE: Opened in 1980, the institution’s requirements began to outstrip the capacity of its concrete structure. Its solid walls allowed very little natural light into library spaces and the enclosed central staircase blocked sightlines, making the interior seem darker and more confined. PHOTO: courtesy Skanska

It was feasible only through careful engineering to thread the upgraded HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems into the tight spaces between floors, which were built with waffle-like slabs to support the weight of the heavy book collection.

THE RETROFIT

At the end of 2020, the Durham County Main Library $40.8 million renovation/addition project was completed. Opened in 1980, the institution’s requirements began to outstrip the capacity of its concrete structure. Its solid walls allowed very little natural light into library spaces and the enclosed central staircase blocked sightlines, making the interior seem darker and more confined. The design also left no room for the library collection and programming to grow.

The building was enlarged from approximately 65,000 square feet to 85,000 square feet by adding a fourth floor. Rather than sequestering new science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) education spaces into a separate wing, these programs were woven through the interior of the building, gathered around a new collaborative central zone tied together by the monumental staircase, which is flooded with light from an enormous skylight overhead.

A glass-enclosed 2-story auditorium for teaching and events opens to an outdoor amphitheater where additional programming can be held. Two distinct makerspaces were built on the first and third floors, wired for technology and equipped with 3D printers. The fourth-floor addition is topped with a green roof that contributes to programming possibilities and the building’s ambitious sustainability metrics while creating outdoor terraces where library patrons can meet or relax on temperate days. The addition’s overhang creates a covered walkway outside the main entrance that serves as additional gathering space.

The monumental staircase is one of the first things visitors see when they walk into the library. The wide, oak-stained steps and elevator shafts are reinforced with steel to support substantial shelves of books while allowing for glass partitions, curved walls and more modern open floorplans.

The demolition was a delicate process, requiring strategic planning to eliminate unwanted building sections without undermining the structural integrity of the remainder. This decision to retain the bones of the existing structure allowed the library to save millions of dollars that could be redirected to other priorities. The whole team can take pride in the satisfaction of a rewarding collaborative design and construction relationship, tremendous public support, and the promise of civic pride and community-building inherent in a structure that is well-tailored to meet the needs of its population for decades to come.

PHOTOS: Mark Herboth Photography LLC unless otherwise noted

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