When one space has to serve multiple roles, it may be tempting to sacrifice form for function. Instead, the redevelopment agency of the city of Lafayette, Calif.—located in the East Bay in the San Francisco Bay Area—wanted its new Lafayette Library and Learning Center to serve as an architectural showpiece as well as a cultural resource for the region.
In 2009, the city held a competition for the library project and five architectural firms presented proposals. Killefer Flammang Architects of Santa Monica, Calif., were chosen as the winners and tasked with designing a large, multiuse library in the city’s downtown area. This facility also would serve as home to the Glenn Seaborg Learning Consortium, a partnership of 12 Bay Area institutions, differing in purpose from the Commonwealth Club of California to the Chabot Space and Science Center. The capital budget for the project was $43 million, $12.5 million of which came from the fundraising efforts of the city’s roughly 25,000 residents.
The location presented a few building challenges. “The site is a full city block, and it slopes 20 feet at the high point,” explains Barbara Flammang, principal at Killefer Flammang Architects. “It was a challenge designing an integrated building with that kind of level change.” The city also wanted to maximize the square footage of the new building, pack a wide variety of programming into the space, and provide sufficient parking.
The architects kept the project from seeming out of scale with its small-city environment by breaking up the mass of the building. “We knew we had to not just make one big, grand statement because it would have overpowered the site and the neighborhood it was in … so we broke it up into smaller forms,” Flammang says. “We pulled it apart into two buildings, and there’s a pedestrian street that goes through the site from the high to low point.”
Much of the site’s ground level, along with part of the mezzanine level, is dedicated to parking. Occupying the upper level is the main library, which contains a technology lab, children’s area, and classroom space, as well as an adjacent community hall intended for performances and speakers. A bookstore and the relocated Lafayette Historical Society are on the library center’s ground level. An outdoor amphitheater and reading court on the mezzanine level round out the many offerings of the 30,000-square-foot facility. Numerous points of entry keep congestion at the busy multiuse center to a minimum.
Slope and Scale
“The sloping metal roof really helps to break up the form—to not just have one flat, monolithic roof,” Flammang says. Vertical 24-gauge standing seam panels cover the entire structure and visually integrate the various components. “The scale was perfect to ‘put a hat’ on all these different building forms; and it’s light, aesthetically,” she adds.
The roof’s large overhang allows light to filter in the clerestory windows that surround all four sides of the main space while reducing glare. In fact, the architectural team at Killefer Flammang Architects conducted sun studies to ensure that the overhang was the ideal size and in the optimal position. Integrated horizontal and vertical louvers on the south and west sides, respectively, further reduce glare. The result is ample indirect light that minimizes damage to the library’s books and reduces the overall cooling needs of the building without the need for window treatments. Low-E glazing on all windows and skylights further minimizes UV penetration.
The project required 325 12-inch-wide metal panels with 1 3/4-inch-high ribs, plus nearly 2,000 lineal feet of 18-gauge, welded-seam galvanized sheet metal for the gutters, which were fabricated and installed by Newark, Calif.–based Petersen Dean Commercial, roof installers for the Lafayette Library and Learning Center project. Installation was complicated, as is typical of large-scale projects but it went very smoothly, according to Joaquim Pereira, vice president of construction for Petersen Dean Commercial. “The building was on a relatively shallow slope and there’s a closed soffit integrated into the eave,” he explains. “The soffit wasn’t metal, but it had to integrate and dovetail into our gutter-and-eave details. There were also pretty elaborate skylight shapes we had to incorporate into the metal and the flashing.”
The cool, grayish-green color of the metal roof looks soft and natural, approximating the look of zinc without the high costs associated with that material. Furthermore, the resin-based coating weathers well and increases the solar reflectivity of the roof. This contributes to a solar reflectance of 0.34 and a thermal emittance of 0.82. The use of durable and recyclable metal roofing material also is in keeping with the sustainable nature of the project.
Although the client decided not to pursue LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the team still followed the design guidelines for a LEED Silver building. Sustainable strategies utilized in the building include an energy-efficient underfloor HVAC system, photovoltaic panels on the surface parking lot, and low-water-usage landscaping. Careful placement of lighting reduces the building’s overall energy use. Stack lighting was designed with arms that jut out over the top of each bookshelf to eliminate the need for diffuse, less-efficient overhead lighting. The exterior is clad in metal panels and reclaimed-teak siding from Southeast Asia. Inside, the modern structural wood columns, tresses, and beams are made from engineered lumber, a byproduct of plywood production.
“The city of Lafayette is a quaint little community that is relatively prominent in the tri-valley area, but it does very little redevelopment,” Pereira says. “This [the Lafayette Library and Learning Center] was going to be the focal point of the city … so there was a high degree of supervision on this job. Each detail was highly scrutinized. At each phase, whether it was integrating the metal roof with the windows or the stucco or the wood, full-size mockups were utilized to prove the stability of the assembly.”
The project “looks magnificent,” Pereira says. “It clearly is a prestigious building in a small city.” A spokesperson for the city of Lafayette echoes Pereira’s assessment. Tony Coe, the city’s engineering services manager, who oversaw the final design and construction phases of the Lafayette Library and Learning Center, says that the community’s response to the new library and learning center has been “in a word, astounding.”
Heidi Moore writes about architecture, design, and green living from Chicago.