The hard work to be done in providing a beautiful new home for over 80,000 books, CDs, DVDs, and the children and adults who will read and watch them began yesterday, as Mayor Fenty was on site to celebrate the groundbreaking of the soon to be Washington Highlands Public Library. The construction site at 115 Atlantic Street, SW in Ward Eight is officially active. And although construction begins slightly behind schedule, the goal for a timely completion by next summer remains firmly in place.
Adjaye Associates and local firm Wiencek + Associates Architects + Planners PC. The Tanzanian-born, ethnically Ghanian, and now resident Englishman David Adjaye and his team of architects laid out the design, while Wiencek is charged with seeing out its execution. Both cooperated extensively throughout the design stages, meeting regularly, and engaging with each other and the community to arrive at a master plan that balances modern aesthetics with functionality. This was a first for Wiencek, as the firm has never worked on a project that was not a design of their own creation. But having previously worked with Adjaye on a venture that failed to pan out, the firms found a symbiosis in their interaction, and were quick to re-explore the relationship when this opportunity presented itself.
When finished, this ultra modern design will receive LEED Silver Certification. In addition to the books, CDs, and DVDs, the 22,000 s.f. space will house 22 new computers, wireless internet, and a meeting space for up to 100 people, as well as two conference rooms each with a maximum capacity of 14 people. The new building will overlook a sloping landscape including a colorful new garden, courtyard, green wall, and outdoor amphitheater. The job of development and construction is being managed by Blue Skye Construction along with Coakley & Williams. When the books are closed, the budget is expected to total somewhere between $10 and $12 million.
The main building is almost entirely glass, textured by an engulfing timber curtain wall that helps the structure blend into the natural surroundings. The two affixed pods will be concrete and also striped by wooden planks. Experimenting with new materials, the architects elected to spray the concrete pods with a polyurethane coating usually reserved for protecting oil storage tanks, creating a unique veneer and enlivening the blandness of unadorned concrete. The outer timber wall will be mirrored on the inside with bamboo floors, enhancing the natural feel of the interior and exterior. In order to keep the interior look clean and simple, Scott Knudson says, "We worked incredibly hard to create a seamless integration of the HVAC system, to the point where you don't even see it." The architects also went to great lengths to stay within budget - one of the especially difficult challenges with any public works project - without cutting any of the most essential design elements. The skylights were almost left on the cutting room floor, but architects stood firm in their insistence that natural light from above was integral to the creation of an open air atmosphere that Adjaye and his team sought.
Many residents were apprehensive about Adjaye's modish design, and others were skeptical that demolition and reconstruction, rather than renovation, was a financially responsible decision. But a series of meetings with the community helped the team of architects revise and reform their renderings in order to address such concerns. A cost-benefit analysis and government-issued study of the conditions of the current building determined that a reconstruction as opposed to renovation was advantageous, and while the aesthetics remain rather progressive, compromise has been reached.
Residents of Washington Highlands can look forward to a brand new library in a year's time, a property that will recall a large, hip, alfresco cafe in the place of a thick-walled municipal building. Adjaye's two library projects, the other being the Francis A. Gregory Library, will help introduce Washingtonians to his unique architectural eye for which he is well-respected in London. The projects are only a taste of more to come, as Adjaye's proposal recently helped win the contract to design the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.
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