Atherton Library

Architect: WRNS Studio

Owner: Atherton Library

Location: Atherton, Calif.

A centerpiece of Atherton, California’s decades-long quest to revitalize its aging town square, the town’s new library is a welcoming oasis and a prime destination for the community. The LEED Gold-certified and zero net energy-ready building is reflective of the modern library’s evolution from simple book depository to vibrant civic hub. It replaces a much older facility with nearly double the square footage and a wide range of programs that reinforce San Mateo County Libraries’ tagline, Open for Exploration.

The new light-filled library sits on the same wooded site as the town’s recently constructed civic center and is adjacent to Atherton’s historic town hall, which was also seismically retrofitted and modernized to serve as the library event space. The library connects to the hall through a grand front porch and other nearby structures through planted pathways and ample windows.

At its center, the library contains a sky-lit reading area that maintains connections to its makerspace and community spaces through a series of portals set among the stacks and a glazed curtain wall. Meeting rooms and multi-use spaces are distributed across its main spine. The north end hosts the children’s collection, where young readers are greeted with comfortable chairs and intimate seating nooks that provide moments of refuge and relaxation. There, a folding glass door wall runs the length of the entrance and opens onto the front porch.

The teen and adult sections anchor the library’s southern wing and are designed to encourage engagement that spans generational divides. An indoor-outdoor makerspace and digital lab, both with views of nearby redwoods, run along the western edge. A true resource for lifelong learning, the library’s program also includes senior resource, work, and reading rooms.

The team employed a simple material palette and plan that has lessened the library’s energy loads while also reflecting biophilic principles. A wooden trellis frames the library’s alcoved foyer, while the building itself curves to embrace the surrounding trees and terraces. Clerestory windows and doors, which have high-performing glazing, filter daylight throughout the building, while rammed earth walls create thermal mass. While the team’s design relies on passive cooling, natural ventilation can be augmented with efficient underfloor systems in extreme months.

To ensure the Atherton community is served now and, in the future, the nearly $20 million project was fully funded and will be sustained through tax revenue. It was built by local contractors and subcontractors, many of whom access the library regularly with their families. The library was also designed to include an eventual cafe, providing future opportunities for local businesses that add value for library patrons.

Additional information

Owner: San Mateo County Libraries and Town of Atherton

Architect: WRNS Studio

Consultant: Specifications: Long Green Specs

Consultant: Waterproofing, Allana Buick & Bers, Inc.

Consultant: Acoustics: Charles M. Salter Associates Inc.

Engineer - Civil: Sherwood Design Engineers

Engineer - Mechanical and Plumbing: Interface Engineering, Inc.

Engineer - Electrical, AV & Telecom Consultant: Integral Group

Engineer - Structural: Mar Structural Design

General Contractor: SJ Amoroso Construction Company

Landscape Architect: SWA Group

Photographer: Bruce Damonte


Dianne Chia, AIA, Chair, Pfeiffer, New York

Stacy Bourne, FAIA, The Bourne Group, USVI

Michael Crumpton, University of North Carolina-Greensboro, Greensboro, N.C.

Clem Guthro, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, Honolulu

David Powell, FAIA, Hastings Architecture, Nashville, Tenn.

Image credits

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Bruce Damonte

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Bruce Damonte

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Bruce Damonte

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Bruce Damonte