Library designer discusses vision, challenges

In designing modern libraries, Snøhetta looks to the ancient times, when ideas and writings were passed along in the plazas of classical Greek and Roman civilizations, said the firm’s co-founder Craig Dykers.

Snøhetta, the Norwegian firm set to design Temple’s next library on North Broad Street, was represented by Dykers at the Temple Architecture Alumni Lecture on April 4 to give the keynote address to a crowd of architecture students and alumni.

University Architect Margaret Carney introduced Dykers before his speech and announced that the university had chosen Snøhetta to design the library. The official decision and announcement came in August 2012 after a review by the Board of Trustees and submission to the commonwealth.

Snøhetta has designed the Alexandria Library in Egypt, the James B. Hunt Memorial Library at North Carolina State University and the Ryerson University Library in Toronto. Other projects by the firm include the September 11 Memorial and Museum and the Oslo Opera House.

In every space, Dykers spoke of redesigning the environment in ways that brought people together to explore their surroundings and make connections with others.

“Redefining what a library is today is a very difficult job,” Carney said, adding that it was Snøhetta’s experience in building libraries for both universities and public places that made the firm stand out among other candidates.

“Libraries have been tremendously challenged, as soon as you talk about the library, everyone says, ‘What do you need a library for? People don’t need books, if it doesn’t exist in Google, it doesn’t exist anywhere,’” Dykers said.

In order to make libraries more appealing, Snøhetta’s designs largely feature wide meeting spaces, use of natural sunlight, vibrant colors and state-of-the-art technology to connect readers with their students.

“A library has never been about books. It has never been about computers, these are simply technologies,” Dykers said. “Really what [libraries are] about, are places for people to interact with one another and share knowledge.”

Dykers made a comparison between the design for the Ryerson University Library, which sits on Young Street, a main commercial street in Toronto, and Temple’s new library, which would sit on North Broad Street in place of the Student Pavilion near Berks Street.

In the Ryerson Library, architects designed street-level shops into the building to build a connection with the surrounding street.

The new Temple library is intended to be a “signature building” on North Broad Street, according to the university’s 20/20 plan.

The official design process with Snøhetta has yet to start, both Dykers and university officials said.

Dykers spent most of his address talking about his firm’s history and philosophy in designing architecture. Snøhetta is the name of a mountain in Norway. Dykers said the firm’s name was chosen in part because it did not lend its name to any one founder.

Snøhetta’s main offices are located in Oslo, Norway, with an additional office in New York City. One interesting feature of its office, Dykers pointed out, is a beer tap in the reception area, meant to provide a relaxed atmosphere for clients coming in to broker big deals.

Many of the photographs Dykers presented to the audience showed workers bent over design tables, using technology from 3-D printers to colored blocks to create building concepts, often surrounded by a few bottles of beer.

“We have high expectations that it will be a great process with designing a building that is everything we envision for great architecture and a significant building,” Carney said of the upcoming design process with the firm.

The design cost approved by the Board of Trustees is $17.5 million out of a total budget of $190 million. An official contract has not yet been announced by the university, and no figures have been provided on how much the university will be paying Snøhetta or its local partner in the design process, Stantec Consulting Services.

Carney said during the design project, her office will try to work with the Temple Architecture Department to develop ways to incorporate the design process into students’ education, though no specific plans have been made.

Carney and Provost Hai-Lung Dai visited the Snøhetta designed James B. Hunt Memorial Library at North Carolina State during its construction and  were both pleased with what they saw, Carney said. The Hunt Memorial Library officially opened on April 4, the same day as the alumni event.

Carney said the Oslo Opera House in Norway, also a Snøhetta design, is “No. 1” on her list of architectural sites to see next.

John Moritz can be reached at john.moritz@temple.edu, or on Twitter @JCMoritzTU. 

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