St. Louis Public Library, Central Library Transformation and Restoration | Cannon Design

Nearing the 100th-year anniversary of its Central branch, the St. Louis Public Library sought to modernize the space for a new century, increase public access, and enhance the original Beaux Arts building by Cass Gilbert as a cultural treasure.

From the building’s original south entry, a granite stair leads to the reception foyer, which is connected to a central Great Hall. The hall is surrounded by five wings, four dedicated to public reading rooms and the fifth, the North Wing, to a multistory book depository.

The North Wing transformation was the most dramatic move in the rejuvenation of this building. Between the walls of the North Wing, Gilbert had inserted a structurally independent steel skeleton for floor support and book shelving. The renovation involved removing the old “building within the building” to address fire and seismic hazard. A multistory public atrium now welcomes visitors coming through a new north-facing entry. Reflecting Gilbert’s intent, new “floating platforms” surround the atrium without touching the interior walls. The glass-enclosed upper levels house the library’s collection in high-density bookshelves.

The Great Hall and four public wings were also part of the renovation. Interior restoration work included cleaning and repairing the ornamental cast plaster ceiling, parts of which had been removed in the 1950s. Metal and stone surfaces, too, were cleaned and repaired.

The new public entry on the north side defers to Gilbert’s original façade as a canopy that arises from a pool of water and never touches the original building. The stainless steel canopy is supported by columns whose surfaces are engraved with titles from the library’s collection. This new entrance opens up the building to surrounding urban neighborhoods north of the library.

Additional Credits

  • Architectural Support: Grice Group Architects
  • Construction Manager: BSI Constructors
  • Consulting Restoration Architect: Frens and Frens
  • Environmental Graphics and Signage: Kuhlmann-Leavitt, Inc.
  • Engineer - MEP and FP | Audiovisuals | Lighting Design: William Tao & Associates
  • Engineer - Structural and Civil | Exterior Restoration: David Mason & Associates
  • Lighting Design: Derek Porter Studio
  • Owner Representative: CLR
  • Site-Specific Artwork: Heller Studio llc

Photo Credit

    © Tim Hursley 

St. Louis Public Library, Central Library Transformation and Restoration

  • Architect: Cannon Design
  • Owner: St. Louis Public Library
  • Location: St. Louis

Jury Comments

The restored building is lovely, bright, and it maintains the Cass Gilbert glory. It is well detailed, restrained, and bold all at once.

The decisiveness of the new elements work well with the existing ones. The new reads clearly against the old.

The transformation of the interior stacks is fantastic; it provided the opportunity for a progressive intervention that is still sensitive to the host building. The canopy on the exterior, too, is modern yet sympathetic to the historic building. The original façade is very modest, and the renovation did not upstage that.

2014 Institute Honor Awards for Architecture Jury

  • Scott Wolf, FAIA (Chair)
  • The Miller Hull Partnership LLP
  • Seattle
  • Natalye Appel, FAIA
  • Natalye Appel + Associates Architects
  • Houston
  • Mary Brush, AIA
  • Brush Architects, LLC
  • Chicago
  • Joy Coleman, AIA
  • Treanor Architects
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Robert M. Hon
  • AIAS Student Representative
  • Savannah
  • Brenda A. Levin, FAIA
  • Levin & Associates Architects
  • Los Angeles
  • Michael J. Mills, FAIA
  • Mills + Schnoering Architects, LLC
  • Princeton, New Jersey
  • G. Martin Moeller, Assoc. AIA
  • National Building Museum
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Ed Soltero, AIA
  • Office of the University Architect - Arizona State University
  • Tempe, Arizona

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