Dollars and Design: Rethinking Big Spending

By Adam Figman, with Stacy Straczynski

While overall unemployment rates for February held steady at 9.7 percent (potentially reinforcing that we may finally be looking forward to better times ahead), construction employment continued to fall by 64,000 jobs, 10,000 of which were among non-residential building. With the demand for architecture services and new construction still lagging behind, as clients aim to redesign already existing structures, it’s important for the design industry to keep focus on innovation and remember that big bucks aren’t necessarily needed for big change.

One great example of a budget-friendly revamp is the renovation of the Albany Public Library (April 2009) in Albany, Ore. by Portland, Ore.-based architecture firm Hennebery Eddy Architects. The construction turned a 41,000 sq.-ft. office into a library that is now a central pillar of Albany’s community—for just $80 per sq.-ft!

The interior and exterior designs are modest, and the architects didn’t have to look far for design inspirations. “Inspiration began with the agricultural history of Albany and the city’s current tag line, ‘The Grass Seed Capital of the World’ at the center of the Willamette Valley,” says David Wark, AIA, LEED AP and associate at Hennebery Eddy. “Bands of green, relating to the idea of agriculture and rows of crops and rows of books, became a consistent design concept for the exterior and interior. This connects to our view of libraries as places of growth and renewal.”

Albany library newest pic

On the exterior, Wark mentions, how green paint bands and vertical trellises were used to break up the long horizontal massing of the previous building, all while adding an energy to the façade and integrating the surrounding landscape onto the walls. “Since opening day the library has been embraced by patrons,” he says. “One library patron stated that the library is ‘Bright, well lit, with a voluminous feel. Structurally, it is non-pretentious, all well and good for a city that prides itself on a solid, working class heritage.’”

Additionally, to save funds, the library’s restrooms were updated rather than gutted entirely, and the horizontal boards used on the interior were made of plywood instead of the more expensive lumber. New lighting was installed to update the overall feel of the space, and rather than tear down an unneeded closet, the architects converted it into a reading room for one.

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