Architecture is about ideas. It is about solving problems and enriching the lives of those who use the collaborative works of the architect or the larger firm. This section of our website is a series of brief white papers about the ideas behind our work, and about the ways in which human inhabitants immeasurably enrich a work of architecture by using it in innovative ways, often in ways not envisioned by the architect. We inaugurate this as a regular thought leadership blog, and welcome your comments and suggestions.
Enhancing a Library’s Presence in the Community

The community library serves all members of its geographic area regardless of race, gender and socioeconomic considerations. How can libraries communicate that all are welcome in a meaningful, sincere way? There are many opportunities to engage, including marketing campaigns and outreach. However, libraries considering a renovation or new building have a unique opportunity to make design decisions with enhanced outreach and access in mind in every aspect of the project inside and out.  

Community libraries often occupy land that inherently affords them access to their surrounding community. Improving or enhancing these connections can help attract more visitors and help the library become a more meaningful resource. There are always connections that can be made, for example, does your library border a mixed-use district, a residential neighborhood, a community park or a school? How can library space, externally and internally, relate to the identified connections? An outdoor library café might engage visitors from a mixed-use district or a children’s area might have exterior windows that entice families from a nearby school. At the Columbus Metropolitan Library Main Branch, GUND worked with the City’s Recreation and Parks Department to transform a parking lot into a landscaped entrance and lively outdoor program space that seamlessly connects the library to the adjacent Topiary Park.

Architectural building inscriptions are a classic approach to welcome all equally. According to Courtney Wimberley who studied Architectural Inscriptions and the University Library Building, this approach was used on a number of public and university libraries that were built in the 1890s to 1930s. The original Boston Public Library, built in 1895, includes the inscriptions "THE PUBLIC LIBRARY OF THE CITY OF BOSTON • BUILT BY THE PEOPLE AND DEDICATED TO THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING • A.D. MDCCCLXXXVIII" and "FREE TO ALL". There are contemporary ways to incorporate traditional architectural inscription such as exterior signage, etched glass inscriptions and lettering on interior or exterior walls.  

Building designs that use transparency can further help to draw people inside the library by showcasing the activities within. Seeing well-lit and activated spaces inside will invite those outside to come explore. The arrival patterns from each locale are important to consider so that each approach can begin to engage library customers from their first glimpse of the building. Once a visitor enters the building, traffic patterns can be choreographed to draw visitors throughout the space. The flow through the building and the feel of the spaces should be intentional. Spaces should be designed to make customers feel welcome and so that they serendipitously engage with library programming and amenities. Furnishings can set the experience in motion supporting library activities and encouraging a variety of behaviors. By choreographing a customer journey through your space you can help visitors extend their stay and foster a greater sense of community.

Seven Features of Vibrant Public Libraries

1. Libraries today are about connecting people to resources and to each other. An assortment of collaboration spaces that include flexible furnishings and easy to use technology support a rich variety of formal and impromptu gatherings.

2. Research shows that connecting with nature has huge health benefits. Try maximizing daylight or opening up views and access to outdoor parks or green spaces. Creating outdoor library programming is another great way to supplement traditional indoor programming.

3. Life-long learning enhances social inclusion and personal development. Libraries are seizing the tremendous opportunity to be impactful in providing programming for all generations including literacy interventions for young children, homework support and skill-based programs for teens and young adults and rich programming and social opportunities for older adults.

4. Libraries are in a unique position to curate and showcase the history and current life of their community. Going beyond the gallery room, libraries are interweaving pieces throughout to guide visitors on a stimulating journey of discovery.

5. Access to high speed wi-fi, tools and technology, like 3D printers, fabrication equipment and audio/video capture studios that customers might not otherwise have access to helps build community and increase job skills.

6. Library personnel equipped with mobile technology can better answer customer questions in real time as they no longer need to be tethered to a workspace.

7. Libraries get more engagement from their customers by encouraging them to linger. They do this with a variety of environments and amenities.
Designing for Flexibility & Comfort in Academic Theatres
A theatre or performance venue is a unique learning environment on an academic campus. It is an unrivaled platform for creative expression, active participation and exposure to new and exciting ideas and experiences. It provides students with the opportunity to practice and perform in a facility of professional standards while also offering a space to engage community members in cultural programs. With the diversity in theatre and music program offerings, it’s important to start the design process by thinking about the variety of performances the space will need to support, from solo performers on stage to larger ensemble performances.

Theatre design starts by thinking about the relationship between performers and audience members. Intimacy often creates connections that engage those on stage with those in the seats. The goal, even with a large theatre, is to design the interior of the theatre with clear views of the stage and close proximity of audience members to allow young performers to succeed.
Flexibility in the design process is a key component in planning a venue that can adapt to a variety of performances. An innovative technical solution can often allow for increased utilization of the space by encouraging versatility.

GUND is working with JaffeHolden and Theatre Consultants Collaborative on a design that explores the use of stage extensions to allow for different stage configurations and to accommodate different sized groups of performers. When mechanically raised, the extension is flush with the stage, creating a larger performance area to accommodate a large orchestra or even a movement intensive dance performance. This allows for larger groups of performers to be on stage together while also bringing the audience closer to the stage. When lowered flush with the floor, the stage extension disappears and creates space for additional seating. Depending on the design, it can also be lowered below floor height to accommodate an orchestra pit.
Theatre size is often based on the seating capacity needed for larger events, which can make smaller events feel uncomfortable and may feel poorly attended as audience members are dispersed throughout the auditorium. Seating arrangement and lighting can be used to influence audience spread and is a friendlier approach to physically blocking sections of seating. This low-cost strategy gives audience members a subtle cue as to where they should seat themselves by positioning lighting to highlight a smaller section of seating. For example, using lighting to highlight the first group of rows in the main floor section of the auditorium can provide a cozier theatre experience for audience members at a small performance. This helps the audience feel more engaged in the performance and gives the students on stage more confidence as they learn to connect with the audience.
Engagement In Store: Libraries Borrow from Retail as the Customer Experience Moves Front and Center
What are the benefits of focusing on the best public library customer experience? What are some ways of achieving it? Libraries are increasingly looking to the retail industry for ways to cement a relationship with the customer and have them return again and again.

Not so many years ago a librarian's biggest concern seems to have been the books. Librarians at the circulation desk found it hard to imagine not being situated right next to the front door so they could monitor patrons and thwart any attempt to leave without checking out a book. Fast forward to today. Librarians have a whole new perspective on books and patrons.
Libraries like the Columbus Metropolitan Library don’t even use the word “patrons.” They are referred to as “customers.” CML has even engaged a retail consultant to bring a fresh perspective and thinking in the redesign of the new main library and branches.
Borrowing from the retail industry, one of the key concepts in designing today’s libraries is “touchpoints.” A touchpoint is any interaction between the customer and the brand. This could be the greeting received when checking out a book at the circulation desk; the way in which the collection is displayed in the library; and the sequence the customer follows to arrive and depart the library. Touchpoints are critical because they come to represent how the customer feels and whether he or she wants to return. They must not be isolated experiences, but applied throughout so the customer reads them as a collective whole.

One of the most important touchpoints is what customers see when they first walk in the door. But more than that, CML extends the library experience all the way outside the doors onto the sidewalks. The building is flanked on one side by a city park and on the other by a beautiful formal Carnegie entrance, the latter with expansive lawns fronting on Grant Avenue. This concept of a “library in a park” makes memorable trips to the CML and connects the library to the larger urban fabric – especially important in Columbus, where the library is an anchor to the new Discovery District.
So what is the experience of a customer once they enter the library? Do they see a security desk? Are they presented with a noisy espresso machine echoing in a hallway? Is the grand experience of entering a beautiful Carnegie Library been diminished in the interest of providing handicap accessibility or quick access from parking? These describe the previous entry experience at CML’s Main library, which were addressed in the redesign. The benefits thoughtfully considering the library’s first impression is a welcoming experience that the customer wants to be repeated over and over.

At CML if you arrive by car your first glimpse of the library is from parking garage elevator. Gone is the noisy café and you are greeted with a line of public meeting rooms and a glimpse into the light filled atrium ahead.

Be it BJ’s Wholesale Club or Bergdorf Goodman, retailers know the importance of first impressions. For libraries, first and foremost, there must be a sense of a brand of place – you must know at all times you’re in a library. To wit:

• The front is welcoming: At CML the original Carnegie entrance to the library has been returned to its noble purpose – giving the customer a sense of grandeur, of entering a place of exploration, learning and wonder for all ages.
• The handicapped entrance is more monumental while not competing: This entrance is equally uplifting while being ADA compliant.
• Display of collection: On tables strategically located throughout the library, books and other media are on display, often themed for a particular subject, e.g. “Black History Month” or “Remembering Bette Davis at the Centennial of her Birth.”
• New connections at level 2 to Carnegie to elevate the experience: The old and new portions of the library are melded seamlessly allowing easy movement from one to the other.

Another shift is the way in which we interact with the librarians and the collection.
Touchpoints include:
• Roving greeters versus fortress-like circulation desk: Librarians are encouraged to go out into the library and engage and offer to assist customers.
• Self-serve checkouts and reserves: For customer convenience, self-checkout is available and intuitively easy to use.
• Hands on experiences – children’s department, scanner for genealogy: The Children’s Department features “Reading Buddies,” librarians who can read to children in multiple languages. Equipment in Genealogy Department supplements on line resources like ancestor.com.

How can we extend the stay and enrich the experience
• Café: The café offers the opportunity to read books in solitude, meet and chat with peers or just enjoy a cup of coffee and people watch.
• Store: The Friends of the Library Store offers customers to buy library-related items while also supporting the library’s financial health.
• Park: The presence of the adjacent Topiary Park extends the library beyond its walls, offering a place to commune with nature during one’s trip to the library.
• Family Friendly, Teen Friendly, Kid Friendly, Researcher Friendly: A varied group of customers whose needs must all be met.
• Reaching out to the community: An adjacent high school, Cristo Rey, uses the CML as its de facto library. This is a whole new facet to the library being “teen friendly.”

The benefits of thoughtfully considering the library’s first impression as a welcoming experience is that the customer wants it repeated over and over. Furthermore, there are spaces in the library for everyone – kids, teens, and adults. As evidenced that the library now serves a vibrant and diverse user base, recently a citizenship swearing in for new immigrants was held at the library.

CML has definitive metrics that show library card issuance and overall visits have both increased substantially. The library has become an anchor of the city’s Discovery District and use of it by community groups has trended upward. In ways never imagined by the builders of the original Carnegie Building, it has become an irreplaceable amenity for the city of Columbus.
David Zenk, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, and Christine Verbitzki, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, were leaders in the Columbus Metropolitan Library project.