The Charles Library, with its towering curved entrance ways and charcoal-grey exterior, is a peculiar, yet distinctive addition to Temple’s Main Campus.
With few buildings that match its presence, the space spans five stories including its basement and stretches from Pollett Walk to Norris and 13th streets to Liacouras Walk.
Snøhetta, a Norway-based international architecture company, designed the 220,000 square-foot building at the heart of Main Campus. The firm has worked on projects like the Central Library of Calgary Public Library, Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt, and the Pavilion at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, according to its website.
The firm is widely known for its maverick approach to modern architecture, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Chad Carpenter, one of the building’s designers from Snøhetta, said one of the goals of the project was to embrace the changing role of libraries and give people a place to pause at the center of campus.
“There’s a real hunger sort of at the center of things to have a place to work, a place to study,” Carpenter said.
The building is also in line with Temple’s efforts to raise its profile as a university, said Joe Lucia, dean Temple Libraries.
“This building is kind of a physical manifestation of that aspirational vision,” he said.
In addition to their local partner Stantec, a Philadelphia-based design firm, nearly 50 different architects, landscape architects and interior architects at Snohetta contributed to the design of the library, wrote Anny Li, a spokesperson for Snøhetta, in an email to The Temple News.
The Board of Trustees budgeted $175.8 million for the project, which broke ground in 2015 after two years of design, Lucia said. The building represents Temple’s largest single investment in a single facility, he said.
The building is named after Temple Trustee Steve Charles, who gifted $10 million to the project in 2018.
Though the library is open to the public, electrical work, network and tech installation, and other interior work is ongoing throughout the building, Lucia said. Construction will be finalized by the end of the fall semester, he added.
Here’s a rundown of the major elements of the Charles Library’s design.
The library was designed to be an open gathering place for the university that shifts the emphasis away from a repository of literature, as most libraries have been, Lucia said.
“It’s this kind of recasting the library as a wide-ranging community resource while still having a space for learning,” he said.
In an effort to make the environment more wireless, Temple added laptop- and battery-loan stations throughout the building, Lucia said. The batteries also helped Temple decrease the cost of installing power outlets at every table throughout, he said.
The library contains more than 40 meeting rooms, which can be reserved through an online system, Lucia said.
In regards to concerns from students and faculty that the building is not a “true library,” Lucia said that most of the great libraries in the world have large, open spaces for connecting with others.
“These are spaces when you enter them, there’s a sense of greatness that draws you in,” he said.
Plus, Charles contains all of the collections that were previously housed in Paley Library, which Charles replaced, Lucia said, even if they are not as visible.
Throughout the planning and construction process, Temple’s team did not have to make any alterations to their original vision for the space, Lucia said.
“We were incredibly lucky that nothing we removed from this project programmatically compromised it,” he said.
The architects chose stone for the building’s exterior to help it blend in with its surroundings, Lucia said.
The goal was also to make the library more warm and receiving to passersby, Carpenter said.
Incorporating green infrastructure was important when designing the building, said Nick Koster, an architect with Snøhetta. The pavers on the outside of the library are permeable, allowing rainwater to seep through.
The outside of the library also contains plaza spaces with sparse furniture.
The architects designed large domes in the building’s lobby out of cedarwood and added full-length windows to allow in natural light, while still being shaded by the fourth-floor terrace, Carpenter said.
Air diffusers behind the wood flats help to filter fresh air in and out of the building, he added. Heating and cooling technology help regulate temperature below the floor tiles, as well.
At the center of the dome near the building’s east entrance is a glass “oculus” that includes views into the building’s four above-ground floors. One of its purposes was to allow light from the sun-filled fourth floor to flow into the lobby, Li wrote.
“The oculus carved into these domes are part of the broader function of the main atrium to serve as a wayfinding anchor, placing the visitor at the center of the library’s activity and allowing views up to all levels of the building,” Li wrote.
The first floor of the building also contains a 24-hour study lounge, Stella’s, a cafe serving La Colombe coffee, event space, the book retrieval area and a Special Collections Research Center, which contains rare texts and archival multimedia that document Philadelphia’s history.
Also included on the first floor are several desktop computers reserved for Philadelphia residents, who can gain access to the building by showing a photo ID, according to a university release. To use the computers, residents must fill out a short application at the front desk.
Though library staff have not finalized an online system for scheduling community events, Lucia has received several requests from community groups and civic and school associations to host meetings in the library.
The vast majority of the library’s books are housed in an automatic book retrieval system called DEMATIC.
Users can request books through Temple’s library system, and the bot will retrieve it from a metal bin inside a large warehouse. Library workers then organize the book onto a shelf on the first floor, where users can pick them up, Lucia said.
It takes 10-12 minutes for a book to be placed on the pick-up shelves from the time that a user requests it, he added.
In order to build the library with traditional stacks as opposed to the bot, the university would have to have spent $40-$50 million more and made the library larger, Lucia said.
Though Temple is not the first to use a robot to retrieve books, the Charles Library contains the only full, active circulating collection in North America, Lucia said.
Fourth Floor and Terrace
The fourth floor contains a reading room, an outdoor terrace and the library’s special collections, displayed in traditional bookshelves.
The terrace provides a wide view of the Bell Tower area and the corridor along 13th Street stretching to Cecil B. Moore Ave.
As of now, the terrace, which sits next to a green roof, is reserved for special events only, though Lucia hopes that it will eventually be open to the public, he said. Lucia is worried about the possibility of students climbing on the green roof or hurting themselves while the area is unsupervised, he said.
“The issue for us is that when we allow this to be an open space, we have to have appropriate supervision for this to be safe,” Lucia said.
At 47,300 square feet, the green roof, which covers the majority of the building’s roof, is one of the largest in Pennsylvania, Li wrote. The green roof also has its own irrigation system to maintain a mix of native plants and sedums, Koster said.
The roof gardens are composed of 15 different species of plants, providing a habitat for pollinators, Li wrote. The plants have attracted monarch butterflies and bumblebees, Lucia said.
“We designed the roof such that students would have views out to the garden from all sides of the fourth floor, creating the sense of being embedded in nature,” Li wrote.