Harris County Public Library

The new Harris County Public Library has enabled a dramatic expansion of the programming and resources on offer to this rural community. This new facility supports a broad range of collaborative community activities through a variety of interwoven spaces. The library offers a diversity of comfortable seating areas that create a space within a space, with quality daylighting and views. Large covered and furnished outdoor spaces support extended library WiFi access afterhours.
The library consists of 15,620 sqft and an additional 1,900 sqft of outdoor covered program space. The library joins the Harris County Community Center on a 24 acre community focused development. The library serves as a multipurpose resource for the community, more than triple the size of the community’s previous library.
The building has large areas of well shaded exterior windows facing north and south to bring daylight and views deep into the building. The library uses extensive glass on the interior to facilitate the communal purpose of the building and to support a small staff’s ability to monitor and engage.
The exterior form and materials of the building were intended to “rhyme” with the previously constructed neighboring Community Center yet have its own voice as the crown jewel of the development. Architectural metal panels, ground face block cmu, and a dash of Ipe wood, serve as the palate of materials. Industrial steel grate serves as a shading trellis reminiscent of the adjacent Community Center outdoor space. Varying shades of orange panels allude to the regions orange color native azalea, popularized by the nearby Callaway Gardens. The board formed concrete bases of the large back porch are formed with differing widths and in and out angles to rhyme with the edge of the forest the porch overlooks.
The program includes:
• A large sub dividable assembly room with audio and video presentation support
• Small conference rooms
• Business center
• Café space
• Bookstore
• A large well-appointed children’s section
• Makerspace
• Computer lab/ classroom
• Dedicated teen center
• Large central stack area
• Archives reading room/ storm shelter
• An adult “modern lodge” reading area
• Much needed storage
• A variety of spaces to curl up with a good book or collaborate on a group project

Design Challenge

The architects were tasked by county leadership to engage residents in the formation of a new cultural hub with a multitude of community services. Initial local vision was simply for a bigger version of the existing small library, but with more books and better chairs. The design team wanted to help the community to dream bigger! Project funds were sufficient to allow the creation of a 21st century library supporting a broad community mission. It would be the most significant investment the county had made in civitas, so it was important to get it right. Both learning and listening to the community, the design team guided them to see modern libraries are becoming community hubs, a place not only for consumption of content, but also of creation and engagement. There is a complete lack of modern broadband service in most of the rural county. Using surveys, dozens of public presentations, and design charrettes, several important community needs were discovered. There was a strong demand for broadband internet access for research, telecommuting, and entrepreneurship. The desire for internet use after hours is served by outdoor covered spaces with 24 hour Wi-Fi access. A makerspace engages the community in multiple ways. Sewing machines are in as much demand as 3D printers, making it a space for social quilting groups as well as robotics and digital technology classes. Various gathering functions use diversity of spaces from cozy reading circles to small conference rooms to very large multifunction spaces with audio and video presentation technology. Teens expressed a need to have a space of their own, leading to a glassed-in corner room with a view and unique features and identity. A much desired engaging children’s area includes a tiered story time space with a panoramic view to the forest; parent-child computer bar; climb-in reading cubbies and whimsical curvy shelving. Glass above the custom millwork lands visibility between the childrens’ and adults’ reading rooms. The glass motif allows the continuation of daylight and views throughout the library. Recent memory of a tornado on the exact building site led to the dual-purpose reinforced concrete storm shelter and library archives reading room. The realities of operating budgets meant a small staff would monitor a much larger facility than they did before. Sight lines became crucial to the design. Library staff were closely involved in diagramming process. Functions were carefully placed for advantageous adjacency and ease of access and serviceability. Every space has large areas of glass facing the central library and circulation desk.

Physical Context

The new Harris County Library is the crown jewel of the Harris County Community site, which includes the previously constructed Harris County Community Center on a twenty-four-acre site. One of the unique aspects of this property is it is surrounded on three sides by a 7500-acre forest. The adjacency of previously constructed Community Center allows for a synergy between the two community focused buildings. The library was designed to rhyme with the design award winning community center which was constructed a decade prior. While the buildings rhyme, the library also has its own voice as the crown jewel of the development. The library was able to build upon planning and development that began years ago. The initial site development provided the opportunity to design a library along the east-west axis with large windows facing north and south, providing a high quality of daylighting and views. A mono-pitch roof design allows for a soaring front elevation with clerestory windows facing south, allowing this area to be a rich source of daylighting. A substantial overhang above these windows, exterior sunshades, and electrically controlled interior fabric shades allow for control and tempering of the rich southern daylight. The lower end of the shed roof brings the building’s height down to the children’s area. A large, continuous band of windows on this northern elevation provides expansive views of the outdoors and to the site of the future community playground and the forest beyond. Outdoor program areas allow the library to expand its mission into the surrounding landscape. A back porch, complete with rocking chairs and picnic tables, looks out onto the forest. The facility is located in proximity to the county high school and nearby residential clusters within the sparsely populated rural county.