Annapolis, Md. played a more central role in the life of the United States than most know, serving as the nation’s capital immediately following the Revolutionary War. In 1783, George Washington resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army at the Maryland State House in the city’s downtown, a moment in history that lives on in the words of his resignation speech. , now displayed on custom panels on the “nave” of Annapolis’ new Michael E. Busch Library in Anne Arundel County.
“Washington’s act of resigning his commission is perhaps one of the greatest acts of selflessness and service in our brief American history: the idea that individuals and entities (military, in this case) chosen to lead our nation do so in service to the greater American community,” says Jeremy Kline, AIA, director of local firm WGM Architecture and Interiors. The “primary mission of this library is service to the Anne Arundel community, and this quote hopefully reinforces some of those parallels with library patrons.”
Our library system aims to level the playing field for everyone in our community by providing resources, programs and materials that help transform lives
The service community of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds is central to the library’s new design, created in collaboration by WGM, New York-based studio Margaret Sullivan and Louis Cherry Architecture of Raleigh, NC. North. The library’s simple one-story brick, glass and limestone structure offers a thoughtful solution that empowers its users.
“We have learned that we need a variety of adaptable and flexible spaces for the 21st century librarian to successfully serve the community,” said Margaret Sullivan, AIA.
“In terms of needs in Annapolis, the city and the county are the stories of two very different experiences,” says Christine Feldmann, director of communications for the Anne Arundel County Library System. Although there are extremely affluent areas, she explains, the number of homeless people is on the rise.
“Our library system aims to level the playing field for everyone in our community by providing resources, programs and materials that help transform lives,” Feldmann says.
Designers strived to imagine the possibilities of creating community-focused library spaces grounded in customer experiences.
“[The] The library has always been about information, stories,” says Rudy Rodela, Director of Technology at Anne Arundel Public Libraries. “As long as people have stories to tell and ideas to share, they will need a place to do so.”
Although books still hold a special place, they are just one part of an integrated series of spaces that all support the active sharing of stories and ideas, in all their forms. Areas such as the Maker Space and the Innovation Tech Zone – which includes computers, sewing machines, video and memory lab equipment, and a portable 3D printer – beckon users.
Often, adolescents are early adopters of these technologies and can serve as “teachers” to adults and young people.
“This maker innovation tech zone was designed to be open so community members could see the innovative and creative activities,” Sullivan says, explaining that it is strategically located next to the teen zone. “Often teenagers are the first to adopt these technologies and can serve as ‘teachers’ for adults and young people.”
Sullivan says they also wanted to design for the unexpected, which includes flexible spaces that have, more recently, turned into a vaccination site. Public collaboration spaces were identified early in the programming as important missing elements that the community wanted. The designers also incorporated the concerns of the local Poverty Amidst Plenty initiative. “The need to have a variety of meeting spaces spread throughout the building supports potential partnership opportunities evolving to meet basic social needs and essential resources,” Sullivan said.
The building is organized around a central mass with clerestory windows rising two stories on the north-south axis. The lobby contains a light-flooded cafe and directly serves the community meeting room while leading to the center of the two-story “nave,” as Louis Cherry, FAIA, refers to the day-lit, double-height central space . The nave is meant to be reminiscent of the large public reading rooms in traditional libraries, but “it’s not a reading room in the sense of tables where people sit with their lamps and read,” says Cherry, but rather a space enabled where the books are part of a set of activities.
“We galvanized all the spaces around the ‘intergenerational living room’ in the center of the nave,” Sullivan explains. “It allows families to have a place to come together and then allows people to separate into the different spaces dedicated to their learning experiences.”
Kline compares the progression of the nave to the progression of life, spaces for children in the north, teenagers in the middle and adults in the south end.
The design also incorporates an acoustic progression. “We ran acoustic models to understand how the large open space would still be acoustically pleasing,” Kline says. This study led to moving the children’s space off the main axis to reduce the transmission of direct sound into the nave, which also uses absorbent materials.
Different ceiling heights, varying colors and finishes provide visual cues for different activities. “Materiality gives you permission to behave,” Sullivan explains. “We use flooring and ceiling materials to reinforce zoning.”
Hard, resilient surfaces provide flexibility and durability at the entrance, in contrast to the friendlier use of carpeting in the nave. Durable, easy-to-clean marmoleum pops up in areas like the maker’s space to give similar cues. And the Quiet Reading Rooms and Special Collections Rooms have a woolen rug that depicts an archival map of the State House based on original blueprints, designating these areas as unique places of reflection.
Beyond Washington’s resignation speech in the nave, designers explored different aspects of Annapolis history that could be showcased throughout the building. The stone tile in the entrance depicts an 1895 nautical survey map of the nearby Chesapeake Bay. Engaging maritime and colonial histories provide narratives that portray the Annapolis experience and can be educational tools for visitors of varying levels of education.
Likewise, light fixtures help identify each space. Whimsical cloudy lighting hangs above the children’s piles and clusters above the children’s activity zone, suggesting, as Cherry puts it, “that the children’s zone is its own world within a world and a place of imagination and exploration”. The fixtures for the teenagers’ zone, the manufacturers’ zone and the adults’ zone are more sophisticated and geometric, mainly circles and linear bars to accentuate the volume. “These have a big impact on how people perceive different fields,” Kline says.
The Michael E. Busch Library of Annapolis is smartly designed for community resilience, to maintain the library’s centuries-old relationships between readers and books while fostering connections between neighbors and generations.
This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of ARCHITECT.