I recently worked on a presentation that included a case-study of the Beaverton City Library, the City of Beaverton’s main library designed by THA and completed in 2000. While crafting the story, I struggled to come up with words to properly articulate the experience of walking into the library’s expansive second floor reading room.
Inspiring? Uplifting? Awakening? The words all felt trite.
The first time I visited this library was just shortly after it opened. Having seen photos, I already knew that the orchard of Douglas Fir columns were striking and the light abundant. But as I ascended the stairs to the second floor, I experienced that “it took my breath away” feeling. I hadn’t comprehended from the photos the scale of the columns and the delicacy of the wood lattice ceiling. (side note: as a marketer, I often find the translation of physically experiencing a space to seeing it in photos a difficult bridge to gap – especially if the project isn’t flamboyant). And while the room is grand, it doesn’t overwhelm, but instead embraces you – connecting you to other people, the sky, and the books… lots of books.
There is a good amount of discussion these days about the library of the future. Will there be books? What services will be most valuable to a community? I could write an entire blog post or three on this topic alone. Many “future library” discussions center on the topic of flexibility, as the future is hard to predict. Yes, this is crucial. But it would be a shame if that need for flexibility ordained the buildings to become more like warehouses. I am not certain what services the Beaverton Library will be offering 50 years from now, but I am certain that the space will remain a powerful place for learning and connecting.
Equally significant to the library was this project’s creation of a new civic center for Beaverton, complete with a large park (designed by Walker Macy) and farmer’s market on weekends. Prior to the creation of this park, the city center was a lovely downtown main street, but with no large gathering spaces. The park’s location makes so much sense now that one would think it was always there. It’s a testament to the City, which understood the importance of giving their community this heart.
I visit the library every year or so – it’s one of the buildings I take out-of-town guests to when they want to see a building designed by the firm I work for. And every time I go, my experience mirrors that first time. I still struggle to put words to it. Writer Mary Kitch said it well in an Op Ed piece in the Oregonian when the building opened:
“If you need proof that architecture can rearrange spirits and pry open minds, visit the new Beaverton City Library. It’s a knockout. True, it may be possible to walk upstairs without saying ‘Wow!’ but we dare you to try. With its basket-weave Douglas fir ceiling, forest of columns and cloudscapes scudding by the windows…it’s a perfect place to think a new thought.”
TEAM: Thom Hacker, Jonah Cohen, David Shelman, Steve Simpson, Brett Crawford, Kacey Jurgens, Walker Macy, kpff Consulting Engineers, CBGKL (now Mazzetti).