About Us

Make a Donation
Fully-Local • Non-Partisan • Public-Service Journalism

Austin’s ‘library of the future’ emphasizes open space, technology

Friday, September 23, 2011 by Mark Richardson

It will not be your father’s public library.


Council members got their first look Thursday at the preliminary design for the new $120 million Central Library, which is scheduled to open sometime in 2015.


In a report from the project’s developers, several things were apparent: the 200,000 square foot facility will have a striking, open design with most areas getting natural light, it will have elements most people probably have never seen before in a library (think restaurant), and it will have lot more technology and fewer actual books as time goes by.


In an early report on the progress of planning the facility, representatives of the joint venture of Lake Flato Architects and Shepley Bullfinch Design, showed Council members schematic drawings of the planned six-story facility, which will be built on the downtown site of the old Green Water Treatment Plant.


“This design is about 30 percent complete,” said Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras, who has been heading up the project. He said it was following the design instruction set forth by the Council last fall to design and build an “iconic signature building” that both met the needs of the citizens for a Central Library and was representative of Austin. “It is being planned and designed as a library for the future,” he said.


The city’s voters approved $90 million to fund the new library in a 2006 bond election, though the overall budget has grown to $120 since that time. The city’s current main facility, the Faulk Central Library on Guadalupe Street, has been outdated for more than a decade, with too little shelf space, insufficient room for patrons, a lack of meeting rooms, and too few parking spaces.


According to Sid Bowen with Shepley Bulfinch and David Lake of Lake Flato, the planned facility will have a total of six levels, in addition to an underground parking facility with space for some 200 cars.


The new building will be bordered on the west by West Avenue, on the north by Second Street, on the South by Cesar Chavez Boulevard, and on the east by Shoal Creek. It will have entrances off of all three streets.


The first level, which will be partly below ground level, will contain mechanical and building support facilities, as well as a 350-seat event forum and parking for about 200 bikes. The main entrance to the building will be on the second level, which will house a restaurant, a bookstore, a periodicals room and more support facilities.


Levels three, four and five will have staff space on the north side of the building and various different areas with access to materials on the south side. A series of large reading porches with views of Shoal Creek and Lady Bird Lake will be perched on the southeast corner of those levels.


The top level will contain, in addition to more stacks, computer terminals and other facilities, and outdoor reading garden. The entire facility will be built around a six-story atrium, which will give patrons a view of all six levels from inside the floors. Massive windows and skylights throughout will provide natural lighting for most of the building, as well as views of downtown Austin, the lake and the Hill Country.


Bowen and Lake said their firms were engaged in early 2009, and immediately began meeting with community groups to get input of what citizens and interest groups wanted to see in the new facility. Bowen said words that came up again and again were “flexible and sustainable,” adding that both those will apply to the technology that will be built into the new facility.


“In 2007 the Kindle was introduced, and in 2010 the iPad was introduced,” he said. “The whole character of the way information is being delivered is changing more rapidly that we can imagine. We have to plan to change along with it.”


Lumbreras said the aim is to create a facility that is not only highly functional and well designed, but is also unique to Austin.


“When we talk about the library of the future, there’s a specific purpose in that,” he said. “When we looked at (other) libraries….we’ve only found one other facility in the world, in Amsterdam, that has all of the elements of what we’ve talked about here in terms of a high focus on technology and the unique layout. In different libraries, there are elements of it, but this is the entire package with all the features we have talked about.”


Council members seemed pleased with the preliminary design, praising the work that has been done so far. They will get a chance to give it a more formal endorsement in October, as an item will be on the agenda to give the planning tech the go-ahead for the second part of the planning phase, which will bring it to 60 percent completion in spring of 2012.


The design phase is scheduled to be completed in spring of 2013, with groundbreaking set for that summer. The facility is scheduled to open in the summer of 2015.

Join Your Friends and Neighbors

We're a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?

Back to Top