Touted as the City of Austin’s new “living room”, the new Central Library is equal parts library and community center. The Escher-like effect of the multi-level atrium, with its crisscrossing stairs and bridges, gives the facility a cohesive feel both laterally and vertically while providing an abundance of natural light.
The 6-level, 200,000sf facility comprises an art gallery, lecture hall, reading rooms and meeting spaces, multiple special interest areas, a rooftop garden, café, and pre-owned bookstore, all atop four subgrade levels of parking. The facility provides seating for almost 600 patrons and there are 150 self-help kiosks and 50 large screen electronic displays located throughout. The site straddles two emerging districts, Second Street and Seaholm Districts, and even offers a bike valet for those arriving by bicycle along Shoal Creek.
How do you design a LEED-supportive wayfinding program that directs, enchants, and tells a story befitting the new Austin Central Library? One of the city’s most significant public building projects, the Austin Central Library was conceived as a showpiece community center, connecting the growing downtown core with the oasis of Lady Bird Lake. Our studio was tasked with designing a wayfinding program that complements the building’s daylight-infused architecture, boosts its sustainability goals, and helps visitors navigate and revel in the multi-level interior with four public entrances, each at a different level. We also conceived interactive placemaking elements that evoke a sense of play. Nearly a decade in the making, the Austin Central Library project involved expanding a sign standard for a long-time client, partnering with many collaborators, and navigating evolving ADA guidelines and street direction changes.
To realize cost savings for the client, we utilized the signage standards that were developed for the Austin Library System’s single-story branch locations and outfitted them, where required, to respond to a multi-level facility. We also concentrated the hard-working wayfinding elements (facility diagram with key destinations listed by level) at the central elevators. These locations captured patrons traveling both laterally and vertically through the space. To identify the various types of self-help kiosks located throughout the building, we designed pendant-type signs that display icons that also convey to maps.
Despite significant budget and schedule delays for the overall project, positive reception of the team’s work has been universal. Among numerous local, state, national, and international accolades, in 2018 the Austin Central Library was one of six libraries to be recognized by the American Institute of Architects for design excellence. That same year Times magazine dubbed the library one of 2018’s World’s Greatest Places. Further afield, the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) named the facility one of five finalists for their Public Library of the Year prize.
Curtis Roberts (principal), Ranulfo Ponce (lead designer)
Jonathan Smith, Daniel Lazarine (Lake Flato Architects)
Jim Chambers. Joe Rondinelli (Shepley Bulfinch Architects)
Mike Soheili, Bobby Sharghi (Capital Architectural Signs)