2011 Recipient | AIA/ALA Library Building Awards

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William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library | Notes of Interest

The William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library is the main library at this public university serving more than 64,000 undergraduate and graduate students. This project transformed a library that had largely functioned as three separate buildings, due to former additions and renovations, into a unified and flexible 21st-century research library and campus hub. Challenges included reconfiguring the internal organization and merging building styles and materials without increasing its gross size.

It was determined that two earlier additions compromised library image and functions, so they were demolished. The design approach to the new construction and comprehensive renovation balances the prominent scale of the classical architecture and the need to engage students. The library maintains a symmetrical organization and east-west “public street” in response to the east-west axis of the oval that continues through the building.

Transparency and openness clarify the organization of the library. Prior to this project, the interior environment was characterized by cluttered, windowless spaces, lacking a coherent concept and sense of direction. Entrances on both the east and west now lead to two new sky-lit atria connected by a glass-encased book tower at the center of the building. The existing skin of the book tower was replaced with glass to dramatically reveal seven stories of books. Transparency connects both atria with views and light and allows the atria and book tower to function as an integrated volume. Users immediately understand the library’s organization and spatial hierarchy.

Flexibility and variety were key components of the design approach. Central to the project is the provision of a variety of environments that respond to different learning habits, desires and situations — ranging from collaborative group work to quiet individual study. The restored Grand Reading Room, flexible West Reading Room, public café, computer labs, meeting rooms, and clusters of casual seating reflect the blurring of boundaries between scholastic and social activities, and promotes the library as a hub for campus community.

Additional Credits

  • Associate Architect: Acock Associates Architects
  • Contractor: Turner Construction Company; Smoot Construction
  • MEP Engineer: Heapy Engineering LLC
  • Structural Engineer: Shelley Metz Baumann Hawk
  • Interior Design: Schooley Caldwell Associates, Inc.
  • Lighting Consultant: Lam Partners Inc.
  • Photo Credit: © 2009 Feinknopf LLC

William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library

Jury Comments

The atrium is an extremely strong organizing element. It provides a strong visual connection between floors, while being an incredible social move where everyone feels a connection to that central space.

Masterful management of a very large space- an example of detailing done so successfully within a very large volume.

Very attentive to both social spaces and spaces of solitude… the individual is not forgotten.

A successful renovation— they started with a static building and created something that really lives!

2011 AIA/ALA Library Building Awards Jury

  • Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, Chair
  • Marlon Blackwell Architect
  • Fayetteville, Ark.
  • Anders Dahlgren
  • Library Planning Associates, Inc.
  • Normal, Ill. 
  • Drew Harrington
  • University of Portland, Dean of the Library
  • Portland, Ore.
  • David Moore, AIA
  • Craig Gaulden and Davis, Inc.
  • Greenville, S.C.
  • Joanna Pestka, FAIA
  • NY Public Library
  • New York City
  • Thomas Schneiter
  • Library Consulting, High-Density Storage
  • Madison, Conn.

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