San Francisco-based Group 4 Architects has helped transform more than 500 libraries from coast to coast. Now, they are leveraging this extensive expertise in library design to create a new division called Library Forward, which offers a full complement of design services spanning a library’s entire lifecycle—from visioning, strategic planning, needs assessment, and branding, to interior design, signage, furniture services, and more.
“We are inventing next-generation libraries with our clients,” says principal David Schnee. “We’re here to help move libraries forward, and we can support them anywhere on their journey.”
“Modern libraries should be transformational and not just transactional,” Schnee says, adding: “We want to create library spaces that empower customers to have the kinds of experiences their communities desire.”
Library Forward has professionals on staff who are highly knowledgeable about all aspects of library design. Collaboration is fundamental to the firm’s process, innovating with both client and allied professionals, including technologists and local architects. An award-winning example of this type of collaboration is the Indian Creek Library in Olathe, Kansas. Group 4 led the strategic visioning and the master plan for the project and later joined forces with Kansas City-based Gould Evans to deliver the final project.
Olathe was looking to transform its library into a gathering place where people of all ages could come together for a variety of experiences. To do this, the library required more space. The project repurposed an abandoned supermarket to fulfill this need.
The first thing visitors saw when they entered the city’s old library were stacks of books. “The community wanted to flip the narrative of what its library could be,” says Andrea Gifford, Group 4 Director of Interiors.
On entering the new facility, visitors immediately see people engaged in a cornucopia of different experiences. They pass by a café, a glass-enclosed maker space, gaming computers, and video editing stations. A central lounge area includes a fireplace, wood paneling, and warm, inviting furniture, reminiscent of a living room.
Enclosing the maker space and a quiet study room in glass cubes provides visibility into the activities taking place there, while also creating separate acoustic zones that keep noisy and quiet areas separate.
One key design consideration was creating a flexible, multipurpose marketplace. “The collections are on mobile gondolas, so librarians can use the building for any function at any time,” Gifford says. A shallow raised floor allows for long-term flexibility, letting staff easily change the data and power distribution to accommodate new technology and new floor layouts.
The remodeled structure brings the outdoors inside by using expansive glass walls and courtyards cut into the building. An artistic sunscreen diffuses the abundant natural light, emulating dappled light filtered through tree branches. Once a sea of asphalt, the parking lot is now a tree-lined promenade.
Looking at the finished building, it’s impossible to tell what its original purpose was. “We took a placeless, box-like structure with no unique character, stripped it down to its core structure, and reinvented it,” Schnee says.