Southwest slated for light-filled library inspired by area’s mid-century architecture

City's 21st renovated neighborhood branch in a decade expected to debut in spring 2020

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The upcoming reconstruction of the Southwest Neighborhood Library building and grounds will incorporate many more windows, as well as new outdoor areas for both kids and adults, planners said at a recent library meeting. The roof will house plants and PVC solar panels, which will supply 30 percent of the building’s energy needs.

Representatives from Perkins+Will, the architectural firm working on the project, unveiled renderings and designs for the revamped library building at a Sept. 27 meeting. The current facility at 900 Wesley Place SW is set to be closed and demolished next spring. The new building, slated for a spring 2020 opening, will be the DC Public Library system’s 21st renovated neighborhood library in a decade.

The current building at 900 Wesley Place SW dates to 1965 and has drawn criticism for its lack of windows and uninviting entrance. Demolition is expected next spring. (Photo courtesy of the DC Public Library)

The existing building — which opened in 1965 — has few windows, an uninviting entrance, and little access to daylight, planners said. It is also, from a decorative standpoint, very drab.

“It was very important to have an intuitive space,” said Kate McGee, the interior designer on the project.

In designing the new library, architects took inspiration from the mid-century buildings throughout the Southwest neighborhood, said project manager Nancy Gribeluk. They also reviewed feedback from community surveys and recommendations from a task force report, while looking into what has been successful at other DC libraries.

An interactive children’s area on the first floor will feature drawing spaces, kid-sized seating built into shelves, and a bulletin-board wall to pin up art and other items. Small and medium-sized meeting rooms will be on the second floor, along with a larger event space that can accommodate up to 108 people for a lecture.

DC library patrons increasingly want space for meetings, studying and civic engagement, noted Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of the DC Public Library system. While fewer DC residents are visiting the library and using physical materials, those who are going are spending more time per visit in the building. The new meeting spaces are meant to facilitate this growing trend, he said.

An aerial rendering shows the green roof that will house plants and enough PVC solar panels to supply 30 percent of the building’s energy needs. (Rendering by Perkins+Will courtesy of the DC Public Library)

The main entrance to the building will feature a small lobby where patrons can pick up their books on hold and kids might wait for their parents.

Architects prioritized good sightlines and quiet acoustics in the planning of the interior, they said. An innovation lab and “makerspace,” where patrons can use software and crafting tools and materials, will also be included. The equipment for those spaces has not been finalized yet. The total project is funded at $18 million.

Some attendees expressed disappointment that the total square footage of the building is set to decrease, from 22,000 to 20,000 square feet. “We have a community that is doubling in size already,” said one resident, who expressed doubt that the library could serve the neighborhood’s growing population.

Planners said that the square footage was limited by budget and zoning constraints. The zoning code limits the percentage of the total lot that the building can occupy, so architects could not push their designs to the boundaries of the property line. The prospect of staffing a larger space also limited the potential size.

Planners noted that this space is meant to be more efficient than the current one. Much of the existing area, they said, is taken up by unusable spaces, such as staff areas and stairwells. “Public” space, they claimed, is actually set to increase from 14,000 to 15,000 square feet.

Reyes-Gavilan said that even though the Southwest population is on the upswing, more people are accessing library materials and services online. “We don’t anticipate monstrous increases in our library visits,” he said. “[We’ve had a] leveling-off as far as physical visits, but greater participation in general.”

Reyes-Gavilan also noted that the Southwest Library has relatively few visits per year, with about 90,000 compared to Shaw Library’s 240,000.

The number of books at the library is also set to decrease slightly, but Reyes-Gavilan said that this should not worry patrons. “We’re going to have plenty of space for decades to come as far as physical shelves,” he said. Because children don’t request books from other library branches as frequently as adults do, the children’s collection will remain at its present size.

A 2,800-square-foot shipping container will house an interim library that will open at 425 M St. SW during the construction of the new library branch. (Courtesy of the DC Public Library)

After the closing of the library’s current building, services and the current staff — will move to an interim space in a 2,800-square-foot shipping container to be located a few blocks away at 425 M St. SW. Once the new library has opened, the temporary structure can be moved elsewhere for use as an interim branch during other library renovation projects.

The library system hopes for the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to review its planned design at its Oct. 16 meeting.

Meanwhile, the library system is moving forward with plans to replace the current Lamond-Riggs Neighborhood Library at 5401 South Dakota Ave. NE, with Consigli Construction Co. Inc. and HGA awarded a design-build contract. The project budget of $20 million envisions a new building eligible for LEED Gold certification for environmental design, according to a news release.

A community meeting on the Lamond-Riggs project is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the current library. The design work is expected to take about 12 months, with the new building slated to open in late 2020.

Work also continues on a $208 million modernization project at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library at 9th and G streets NW downtown. Its reopening is also scheduled for 2020, with new, distinctive features such as a “vibrant and transparent” entryway, a monumental staircase, a ground-level cafe, a double-height reading room, a rooftop event space, and a large auditorium and conference center, according to the DC Public Library’s website.

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