The Virginia Commonwealth University Cabell Library project exemplifies the potential to transform an introverted mid-century building into a state-of-the-art facility that enlivens an entire campus.
The existing building lacked critical spaces for individual and group study, collaboration, and social interaction. In response, the addition and renovation nearly double seating capacity and introduce a range of multi-functional, flexible spaces that will allow the Library to respond to varying usage patterns and to accommodate evolving program needs. Additional Library enhancements include a multi-functional event space, a Workshop featuring robust facilities for digital content creation and 3D fabrication, and a ground floor cafe. Sited on what was formerly an unsightly sunken loading dock, the addition enlivens the University’s iconic Compass Plaza. New seat walls offer outdoor space for the campus community to congregate, and walkways are enhanced by a new colonnade and planters that replaced the barren concrete plinth of the original building.
The renovation of this “2016 New Landmark Library” award winner focused on four major design themes.
Uniting the Old with the New
The vertical rhythm of the precast concrete fins from the original building are reinterpreted in the addition as vertical glass fins adorning the glass curtainwall facade and providing solar shading to interior reading rooms. The vertical seaming of zinc panels along the western facade also emphasizes this connection between the old and the new.
Double-height spaces provide connectivity between floors and give the building a feeling of welcome. Transparency to the outside via large windows and vast expanses of exterior glass walls draws the energy of the urban campus into the building, and, at night, the Library floods its surroundings with warm light and human presence.
Classrooms seamlessly convert to additional collaboration spaces when not scheduled for instruction, and the third-floor Event Space is completely open and can be subdivided into smaller spaces to better accommodate a wide variety of programs and events.
Continuity and Wayfinding
Each of the staircases in the addition is set against a backdrop of vertically slotted wooden panels enlivened with inset LED light strips that can be programmed to different color settings as appropriate for Library events. This vertical wood and light arrangement is present at each of the addition’s staircases and draws library users up through the building; from the top of the first flight of stairs, patrons glimpse the familiar pattern across the open seating area, directing them to the second staircase.