Franklin Avenue Library Review

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The books are unpacked, computers humming, and solar panels generating at the recently re-opened Franklin Avenue branch library. Despite some minor quibbles, I think that the building is a fabulous success! Kudos to the Library board, the architect, the builder, and the City for promoting sustainability as a core component of the project.

Franklin Avenue Library Sign: Sign at the newly-renovated Franklin Avenue library branchFranklin Avenue Library Sign: Sign at the newly-renovated Franklin Avenue library branch

I pulled into the east parking lot and immediately noticed the bright yellow charging stations for electric cars prominently placed in the middle of the lot (discussed later). A clearly marked sequence draws people who arrive by car to an entrance tucked behind the building.

Franklin Avenue Library East EntranceFranklin Avenue Library East Entrance

I'll admit that though the entrance sequence is readily apparent, I was not particularly thrilled with the connection between the street and sidewalk. After entering the building, it became obvious to me that I had actually arrived through the secondary entrance. The primary entrance (particularly for pedestrians) appears to be the west one, shown below.

Franklin Avenue Library West Entrance: West entrance to the Franklin Avenue library branch is connected to the sidewalkFranklin Avenue Library West Entrance: West entrance to the Franklin Avenue library branch is connected to the sidewalk

The redesign of the facade pays healthy respect to the glass wall fronting on the reading room of the original structure.

Franklin Avenue Library Glass Facade: Allows for a good connection between library users and the streetFranklin Avenue Library Glass Facade: Allows for a good connection between library users and the street

I love the connection the north-facing glass wall allows between passers-by and library occupants. Chairs and study tables are placed against the glass allowing for natural light to be used. Further back in the room are computers and book shelves.

Franklin Avenue Library Glass Facade, Inside ViewFranklin Avenue Library Glass Facade, Inside View

Contrast this to the Central branch's facade, which obscures what is going on inside, even on the north side of the building.

Des Moines Central Library Approach From WestDes Moines Central Library Approach From West

Inside, the thoughtful design continued to be expressed. Even on my first visit, it was clear where to go to find the various items we were looking for. First up, the Children's section.

Franklin Avenue Library Children's Section EntryFranklin Avenue Library Children's Section Entry

Note that kids will be inclined to ignore the bench clearly intended for them to sit on, and flop down on the floor to read.

Franklin Avenue Library Children's Section Reading AreaFranklin Avenue Library Children's Section Reading Area

Here's the bench, three feet away. Maybe it's just my kids that prefer reading on the floor.

Franklin Avenue Library Children's Section Reading Area: Kids are reading on the floor and in chairs, but not using this benchFranklin Avenue Library Children's Section Reading Area: Kids are reading on the floor and in chairs, but not using this bench

The computer area and main stacks are located towards the west side of the building. You can see the the natural light filtering in from the north (right).

Franklin Avenue Library Main Stacks AreaFranklin Avenue Library Main Stacks Area

Franklin Avenue Library Charging Station: Charging station for electric cars at the newly-renovated Franklin Avenue library branchFranklin Avenue Library Charging Station: Charging station for electric cars at the newly-renovated Franklin Avenue library branchOne of my quibbles with the library is the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designation. Some commercial, retail, and residential projects may see a benefit from LEED designation: increased sales or lease rates and/or positive earned media for example. I don't see a whole lot of ROI for the cost of LEED designation when it comes to public buildings. Frankly, I feel in the case of a public library, the added expense for the extensive LEED documentation and application process is money that would be better spent on providing services to City residents.

Case in point: Charging stations for electric cars. Providing this amenity helps achieve a higher LEED score. Let's say, hypothetically, that the cost of the four charging stations plus the electrical service was $10,000. I'm just not convinced that they will be used enough to justify that expenditure. Were the building not seeking LEED Platinum designation, I doubt the charging stations would have been installed - perhaps they would have allowed for space in the electrical panel and placed conduit under the parking lot for future installation of charging stations, saving substantial money up front.

My fear with point-based systems like LEED is that they obscure the fundamental goal of healthy and energy-efficient buildings by encouraging owners to spend lots of money on items that achieve "points" but do not significantly advance sustainability.

One high-tech element that I believe does advance the building's sustainability is the integration of photovoltaic panels. There is a roof array not visible to the pedestrian, but PV is also incorporated into the shading features on the east entry. On the way in to the library, my sons (5 and 7) actually pointed them out to me and told me what they were for!

Franklin Avenue Library PV PanelsFranklin Avenue Library PV Panels

For the most part, things are played relatively safe without descending into meaninglessness. One of the ways the designers avoided this trap was through playful lighting. Creative and interesting fixtures hang from the ceiling in almost every space.

Ultimately, while I don't think the design itself is particularly "challenging" architecturally, the renovated Franklin Avenue branch is a strong public building and a well-planned library. Architect David Chipperfield tried to draw to the inside straight with downtown's Central branch and came up short. In contrast, DMA and Benjamin Design Collaborative played a strong three-of-a-kind for the solid win at Franklin Ave. I look forward to many after-school visits, weekend book exchanges, and community meetings at the newly renovated branch.

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