At first look, it's fair to wonder if the ghost of an argyle-sweater-totting Payne Stewart or a checker-clad circus clown helped design the soon-to-be-built Francis Gregory Library at 3660 Alabama Avenue SE. But like the progressively designed Washington Highlands Library, London-based David Adjaye is responsible for the ultramodern architecture that is slowly giving a hip new face to the District's libraries. Construction for the two-story, 22,500 s.f. building is set to get under way within the next two weeks, becoming Adjaye's second attempt to pass a glass box off as public library, after his "Idea Store" in Whitechapel, England put his atypical architectural acumen on the style map.
When designing the Washington Highlands Library, the size of the plot gave architects ample room to play with. Houses in the surrounding neighborhoods and on-site land elevation changes dictated many of the design decisions, but in the case of the Gregory Francis Library, architects were still expected to provide space for the same program requirements, and gifted much less area to perform on. This forced planners to push the building to the edges of the lot, leaving little room for landscaping or parking. Fortunately the site is surrounded on three sides by tree-filled parkland, so Adjaye and his design team were inspired to create a pavilion-like structure, blurring the boundary between outside and in. The glass walls are endowed with a checkerboard pattern, alternating squares of translucent glass and mirror to provide the ability to see in and out, while also reflecting the surrounding nature. This theme of open sight lines extends to the interior, as colored, transparent glass boxes help delineate program elements within, such as the children or teen sections of the library. Other interior boxes take on a wood grain finish to evoke the natural setting just steps outside the library walls.
Developers had hoped to incorporate walkways and design elements that more directly connect the library with the elementary school to the west and the park to the east, but the design team received little cooperation from either entity. What little room there is between the library walls and the property lines is landscaped to mirror the checkerboard pattern of the building frontage, hexagon cement pavers alternating with grass planters.
bringing another unusual design to life with the building of the Smithsonian's new Museum of African American Culture.
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