CASE STUDY: COTE TOP TEN WINNERS
Cesar Chavez Library
The incongruousness of it is startling—a lake in a desert—serving as the backdrop for a very green building, the Cesar Chavez Library. Yet, there it is, plunked in the middle of an urban public park in the southern section of Phoenix, providing educational resources, recreation, and enjoyment for a community. The library, with its curved walls and winglike roof, is a striking contemporary presence next to the traditionally constructed lake—a remnant from mid-20th-century water attitudes.
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Though the park was popular for picnicking, an anchor was needed to draw more people to the site. In a mutually beneficial arrangement, the city of Phoenix contributed the land, and the library in turn has enhanced the park and provided needed amenities to a growing suburban community. As juror Rebecca Henn noted, “Socially, the use was a strength there. They really addressed community issues through the architecture.”
The project began with a careful planning study that looked at the site, defined user needs, and identified environmental goals. The city awarded the project to Line and Space, an architecture firm founded by Les Wallach and rooted in the Southwest with firmly established credentials. According to project architect, John Birkinbine, “We were selected because our firm focuses on designing buildings very specific to their sites, and this project presented both great opportunities and challenges. After analyzing the topography of the site, solar angles, existing vegetation, drainage, traffic circulation, and current use of the lake, we synthesized the elements to formulate our design. In the end we viewed the lake as a terrific positive from both an aesthetic and functional perspective.”
The form of the library mimics the arc of the bordering lake. Two curved wings shape the building and then open back out again along the north side like an hourglass, also serving to define the central core of the interior. The building was incised into the existing earth berms, and extra excavation from the incision was used to build them up to provide thermal mass. The berm on the north side cuts down on traffic noise and helps mitigate the view of a major highway.
Responsible management of water from all sources is critical in the desert and one of the significant achievements of the Chavez library. The building uses the lake as a storage basin for water harvesting. Roof rainwater is directed away from the building into a central gutter, which falls into a splash basin that overflows into the lake. Instead of having to purchase, excavate for, and bury a storage tank, the lake is used as free storage for harvested water, which is then used to irrigate drought-tolerant trees and shrubs in the 40-acre park.
Condensate from rooftop mechanical units, as well as patio and foundation drains, irrigate the vegetated island in the new parking lot. The high-efficiency automated irrigation controller allows for seasonal programming and has lowered water use by over 50 percent. Low-flow toilets, waterless urinals, and faucets with sensors reduce indoor water use by 30 percent compared with a conventional building.
A 37,000-square-foot roof covers the 25,000-square-foot, one-story building. Resulting overhangs control interior heat gain and glare and supply shading for patios, entryways, walkways, and interior spaces. The long and narrow building with extensive window walls provides plenty of daylight and views of the lake and South Mountain beyond. Clerestory windows give a visual sense of the roof floating above the walls, both from inside and out, making the building seem larger than it is.
Though minimizing water and land use are most prominent, the architects employed multiple green strategies: limiting water heating to staff areas only, providing occupants with thermal-comfort control, and choosing materials for durability, low maintenance, recyclability, and local availability. Also, the open-plan design allows for flexibility and may well extend the service life of the project. LEED certification is in process, according to the architects.
Shera Farnham, assistant director for Phoenix’s libraries, applauds the vision and accomplishment of the Cesar Chavez Library, calling it the “living room of the community, a place where all age groups come and find education, relaxation and entertainment.” The building, which draws users from a large nearby high school, has become the third busiest in the city’s library system since its January 2007 opening.
The Cesar Chavez Library was designed from the conceptual stage to be green, and the clients—both the city and the library system—are justifiably proud. “This isn’t a large project compared to some others, yet it has won this wonderful honor,” Farnham boasts. “The public comes because it’s an attractive place to be. It’s respectful of its site and the community loves it—all of our goals were achieved.”
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