Charles Library at Temple University

Architect: Stantec | Snøhetta – Joint Venture

Owner: Temple University

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Category: Design excellence

Founded in the late 1800s, Philadelphia’s Temple University has long endeavored to challenge higher education’s status quo and provide equitable education avenues to the city’s diverse population. When it opened, Temple operated for decades without a dedicated library, until the brutalist Samuel Paley Library opened its doors in 1966. The 220,000-square-foot Charles Library replaces that hulking structure and functions as the North Philadelphia campus’ social and academic epicenter.

Recognizing that great buildings must have both aesthetic appeal and contribute significantly to the surrounding community, the team conceived of the library as an academic research space that welcomes public exploration and fosters a culture of learning. Referencing materials found elsewhere on campus, the library’s base is clad in vertical sections of split-faced granite, while sweeping arched wood entrances and glass offer maximum transparency along the dramatic three-story lobby.

Two expansive reading rooms sit at the north and south ends of the library’s light-filled fourth floor, both of which feature glazed walls that offer views of the lush green roof. Envisioned as a meadow landscape, the ornamental grasses and perennials provide color and interest throughout the year and serve as a rich habitat for pollinators.

Inside the library, the bustling central atrium is active 24 hours a day and offers computer workstations for the greater community, largely underserved by the city’s public library system. The atrium, with views to nearly every corner of the building, is the library’s anchor, and an oculus excised from the dome above allows daylight to flood the lobby. A central stair that reaches the library’s highest level is among the most visible elements greeting visitors at the lobby.

“Libraries are a great place for integration to occur, and Temple used this object building as a gesture toward bringing in the community." - Jury comment  

At the base of the stair, the service desk prompts interaction with the affectionately named BookBot, an automated storage and retrieval system that houses the library’s 1.5 million volumes. By eschewing traditional stacks everywhere but the browsable collection on the fourth floor, the library boasts ample space throughout for visitors and individual learning opportunities. For the new library, Temple has embraced an all-mobile technology strategy with charging banks and comfortable workspaces throughout the building.

A significant highlight in Temple’s decade-long transformation from local university to emerging global leader, this library evokes the ideals of discovery and creation. Its engaging design has prompted students and the community to engage with it more directly, and the project’s completion marks a pivotal moment for the school and city.

Additional information

Project team

ASRS/Bookbot: Dematic

Engineer – Civil: Hunt Engineering

Engineer – MEP: Stantec

Engineer – Structural: LERA Associates

Consultant – Façade: Heintges

Consultant - Green Roof: Roofmeadow

Consultant – Lighting: Tillotson Lighting Design

Consultant – Programming: brightspot strategy

Consultant – Sustainability,LEED: Stantec

Dome Geometry and Framing Fabricator: RadiusTrack

General Contractor: Daniel J. Keating

IT/AV: Sextant Group


Judith P. Hoskens, Assoc. AIA, (Chair), Cuningham Group Architecture, Inc.  

Malcolm Holzman, FAIA, Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture

Dina Sorensen, Assoc. AIA, Learning Environment Project Designer & Research Liaison

Lawrence W. Speck, FAIA, Page Southerland Page, Inc.

Amy Yurko, AIA, BrainSpaces Inc.

Image credits

Library exterior

Michael Grimm Photography

Informal meeting spaces

Michael Grimm Photography


Michael Grimm Photography

large windows offer city views

Michael Grimm Photography

Public gathering space at library entrance

Michael Grimm Photography