Vansville-Vanderburgh Public Library’s $44 million master building program, instituted in 1996, called for replacing three older library buildings with new, state-of-the-art structures and renovating three of its more historic buildings. “We have eight buildings total, so this is a pretty ambitious project for us,” explained Marcia Au, director of EVPL in southern Indiana. “We are just about complete at this point. We are going to be opening Central Library in mid-September, while our newest library, Oaklyn, opened a year ago March.”
Central Library, located in Ohio Township, will be Indiana’s first LEED-registered “sustainable” public library. The $6.6 million library will feature a raised-floor infrastructure (including conditioned air), active solar hot water system, and wireless communications. Oaklyn Library, which won the AIA Indiana Honor Award, is a modest $3.3 million earth-sheltered building featuring a green roof, energy-efficient lighting, and an advanced design HVAC system.
“One of the main considerations in libraries, especially in Indiana, is to save energy,” said William M. Brown, director of architecture at Veazey Parrott Durkin & Shoulders, which designed both the Oaklyn and Central libraries. “It’s one of the costs that you can control and in Indiana there’s a limit as to how much you can raise taxes to respond to changes in your operating costs.”
Oaklyn Library’s design (photos this spread) sprang from a series of community charrettes. The library program called for a single-level 18,500-sq.-ft. library with plenty of parking, but an unexpected challenge arose when the library purchased a steeply sloping site, which fell fifty feet away from a main thoroughfare. “During the discussions, the idea was to look at the earth-sheltered design as the most economical and the one that took the most advantage of the site,” said Brown.
“The landscape architects had the idea to use natural mesic meadow for the landscape because it’s a wet hillside — and then carry that over onto the roof. We looked at the state-of-the-art in roof membrane technology, and that led us to Charlie Miller with Roofscapes, who has done a number of these systems. This is probably the most elaborate one he’s done because it included some water retention capability built into the roof, and then a subterranean irrigation system to keep this natural meadow alive.”
The roof system includes ponding elements that emulates the habitat favored by the native plant community. Designed to last the life of the building, the roof employs double, heat-welded waterproofing membranes, protected by only 14 inches of a special soil mix. Besides its effect on building energy costs, the living meadow roof will also reduce storm water runoff, reduce the urban heat island effect, and clean the air and water.
“This is probably the most expensive roof we’ve ever put on a building,” Brown added, “but it allowed us to put the building into the site with confidence. And the cost of the building was less than traditional construction because you’ve got three walls that are just poured concrete.”
To overcome the notion that earth-sheltered buildings are dark and cave-like, the architects made a special effort to get light into the building. One way was to use 11-foot-tall windows across the one façade, together with light shelves to bounce light further into the building (and also shade the windows). The other method was to locate a clerestory on the roof, cleaving the mesic meadow. At night, light through the window is visible for miles across the Pigeon Creek Valley, serving as a beacon to the community.
Another idea involving natural light resulted in a kinetic sculpture called “CloudGate.” Brown explains, “We wanted a way to diffuse the light coming into the big clerestory over the circulation desk. We also needed a way to gate off the collection area at night so they could use the public areas without getting into the collection area. We have a single-piece aluminum structure with stainless-steel mesh that is about 20 feet by 20 feet, and it rotates. During the day it’s a diffusing cloud over the clerestory and at night it swings down and becomes the gate.”
Oaklyn also has an energy-efficient lighting system and state-of-the-art HVAC system with pulse-combustion condensing boilers, variable-speed pumps, occupancy sensors, and computerized controls. Although this new building is three times larger than the old facility, utility costs are comparable to the former library.
When the library system was explaining its wish list to the design team, one element that caused some consternation was a gas fireplace. The architects were concerned about venting it through the green roof and proposed another solution instead: a digital gas fireplace. “After all,” observed Brown, “it’s a fake fireplace, so we thought we’d fake the fake fireplace with a digital fireplace. That worked out extremely well.”
“What we have is a beautiful stone fireplace and the black glass just as you would if you had the gas logs,” Au explained. “Behind that is a large monitor. The software gives you a beautiful gas log fire, complete with cracks and pops. It’s in an area where we have popular materials and magazines and newspapers and soft seating. Most people, when they’re sitting there, have no clue.
“In the summertime it’s an aquarium, and there are other options, too. You could do some programming there, you could show current events there, you could do a number of things. And it’s all run off a DVD player.”
Another unusual aspect in Oaklyn Library that will also be used at Central Library is its automated multi-color lighting system. The Color Kinetic system is “fairly new,” Brown said. “It consists of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) controlled by computer. You can get 65 million different colors from these LED units, and they can be controlled in series and patterns by the computer.”
At Oaklyn, the system is located in the children’s area at the back of the building, which is the only area that receives no natural light. It is hidden in a curved bulkhead in the ceiling. “There are eight pre-programmed scenes that they can have in there,” Brown said, “but most typically they have the moving rainbow.”
At Central Library the colored lighting will form the boundary between the children’s area and the adult area. Individuals will physically cross over a bridge with a “light river” flowing under their feet that emanates from a stained glass mural.
Both Central and Oaklyn are designed to have wired cafés, making them bookstore-like with lots of soft seating, including lounge chairs with table arms that pop up and lots of window bays. The two libraries have both wireless and wired capability so that patrons can communicate with devices ranging from cell phones and PDAs to laptops. “We have a café garden attached so people can go outdoors, and they should still be connected because the wireless extends a couple of feet from the building,” Au said.
Stephen Thomas, director of the Ohio Township Public Library System, explained that rather than having many fixed computer stations, visitors will be able to check out a laptop at the front desk and take it anywhere in the library they want. “At Central Library we also wanted to have PDA access points that will enable people to bring in their PDA devices and use them,” he said.
“The public printers will be wireless and networked. Hopefully, by the time the building is built, Gaylord Information Systems (our catalog and circulation system) will have palm devices that will enable us to go out into the stacks and look something up in the catalog for a person or check books out to people right then and there. We will also have self-checkout stations for people who don’t want to wait in line.”
“The wireless system will probably all be through 802.11 unless a new standard is developed by the time we open the library,” noted Timothy A. Deem, senior network solutions architect at Keller Schroeder & Associates, Inc., the firm handling IT for the project. “The idea is basically for the technology focus in the library to be mobile so people can move around the library and be online or on their phones anywhere.
“We want to be as up-to-date as possible. There will also be wireless for voice connectivity because they’re planning on implementing a telephony solution,” he said, adding that there will be some CAT 6 wired connectivity, mostly in the staff area, set up so the internal network and infrastructure will not be accessible by the public.
Unlike Oaklyn, which is built into a hill, Ohio Township’s new 145,000-sq.-ft. Central Library will feature abundant natural daylighting through its sawtooth clerestory roof. With trusses that span about 120 feet, the main adult area has 28-foot-high ceilings with no columns, giving the library maximum flexibility to reconfigure its collection. The ample daylighting is designed to save on lighting costs and also on cooling to extract heat generated by artificial lights.
“There is a heat-reflective roof on the building,” noted Brown, “and the tilt of the clerestories is such that the entire roof can be populated with photovoltaics at some point in the future. All the clerestories point due south, and they’re angled such that the photovoltaics will be the most efficient. We’re starting out with a smaller array, and then as they get funding or grants they can add to their array, and eventually they’ll get to the point where they’re selling power.”
Central Library also features a very energy-efficient heating and cooling system that includes whole-building heat recovery. Waste heat from the chiller and the building is used to dehumidify the air. “The HVAC air is delivered under the floor instead of in ductwork in the ceilings,” Brown noted, using a raised-floor system. “The whole floor becomes a plenum, which eliminates a lot of ductwork, and by eliminating ductwork you are also eliminating a lot of resistance to air flow.
“By using underfloor air delivery you have about thirty percent better energy efficiency. But more importantly, you have better air quality because the conditioned air is rising from the floor, and it’s best in the area that people occupy.” The raised-floor plenum is also used for wiring. The floor is laid out in a grid under two-foot panels of carpet tile.
“One thing the library director wanted to do was show off the technology of the building and not just hide it,” added Brown. “He wanted the underfloor air system to be visible in at least one place, and we’ve incorporated computer monitors to show people how the building systems are working.” These wall-mounted consoles will enable the public to monitor what is going on with the HVAC, photovoltaics, and solar hot water systems in the building at any given moment.
“We want to stress to people the energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective aspects of the building,” explained Thomas.
“In our newest building,” Au observed, “we have state-of-the-art HVAC systems that are all programmable, high-efficiency boilers, and air-conditioning systems. The lighting system will be programmable, and our security and access systems are all computer-run as well. Instead of keys to the doors in much of the building, we’ll have card access.
“Now, I wanted retinal scans, but we’re not quite there locally yet. There’s at least one library in the country doing the thumb scan, and we might get there a few years down the road. Today there are no building systems that aren’t touched by technology in some way.”
“These two libraries are two very different solutions,” concluded Brown. “In one site it made sense to use technology to build into the hillside, and at the other site it made sense to open the building up to light. In both cases they’re economical buildings; they’re not paying a huge premium to be energy efficient.
“It just involves a lot of research and thinking and integration of all the systems during the design process to make it work.”
SARA MALONE IS A FREELANCE WRITER FORMERLY WITH THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS IN WASHINGTON, D.C.