Flexibility with a capital “F” was the key in HMA2 Architects’ renovation for the public library in Westport, Conn.
Originally built in the 1980s, it was a relic from another era – a time when libraries were dedicated only to books and those who loved them.
“Now people are exchanging and creating information there, and we needed to make it more visible and flexible,” says Henry Myerberg, founder of HMA2. “We wanted to transform the existing library to accommodate large gatherings of 400 people or more, and to add seating space and conference rooms”
Their strategy was to flip the library upside down and move its books to a 12,000 square-foot lower level from a larger space above. Public space was expanded on the upper level – with a central area that’s like a browser for all activities.
“They wanted to make it bigger in some spots,” he says of his clients, a public/private library board with an executive director. “The question was how to get 100,000 square feet out of 50,000 square feet.”
Above, they lifted and stretched walls, floors, and ceilings within the existing footprint to create spaces for learning and social activities. Below is a library that’s comfortable and cozy, with tables, chairs and spaces tailored toward small gatherings.
The books on the lower level are in the shadows, while the upper level is a space for more people, with light on two sides. During the day, the upper level is an open reading and gathering area. Later, it’s an auditorium – a space designed to appeal to as many as possible.
“It’s as much a community center as it is a library now,” he says. “It’s a family room, a living room, a concert hall, an exhibition hall, a café, and a recording studio – and people are coming together there to interact and create.”
Because it’s located downtown, the architects considered carefully how the interior relates to its surroundings. “It overlooks the Saugatuck River,” he says. “And the front overlooks a park, so there’s an opportunity for outdoor concerts as well.”
Current circumstances call for a virtual library and community experience for now – but the optimists among us know that can’t last forever.
And when it’s all over, Westport will have a jewel of a library to celebrate with.
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