All in the Details: Austin Central Library

*All in the Details is a recurring post we make in which we examine architectural, design and artistic details, focusing on a different building or space each time. Subscribe to receive every issue.*

Austin Central Library, with a northwest perspective, across Cesar Chavez St.

Austin Central Library, with a northwest perspective, across Cesar Chavez St.

"Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest." - Lady Bird Johnson, former First Lady of the US

It seems like there's no shortage of beautiful and unique libraries in the world, and Austin, Texas just added it's own to the collection. With it's doors opening to the public in October 2017, the six story beauty will definitely have something of interest to you, even if you don't consider yourself a raging bibliophile. Whether it's the rooftop garden and courtyard, the weird-inspired gift shop or the Hogwarts-reminiscent staircases that almost seem to be in the midst of shifting, the building is definitely a must-see. So naturally, we had to take a tour of the space, so that you could too!

Seriously… Don’t they look like they’re shifting?!

Seriously… Don’t they look like they’re shifting?!

“Caw” by artist Christian Moeller (top left of photo). A 37-foot-tall kinetic sculpture with an LED screen watches over the atrium.

“Caw” by artist Christian Moeller (top left of photo). A 37-foot-tall kinetic sculpture with an LED screen watches over the atrium.

Located just west of center in downtown Austin, this architectural gem is good for everything from heavy exam-studying to low-key relaxation, with a view of Lady Bird Lake and Shoal Creek. Need some coffee before a meeting downtown, and want to experience the essence of Austin in the process? This is your place. Want to people-watch in one of the most culturally interesting cities in the United States? The Central Library is here for you. There’s literally no shortage of character inside this place.

“You always take your book to the light. You never take your book to the dark. Light is what you seek when you’re reading a book, and we wanted light to be everywhere present.” - David Lake of Lake|Flato, to the Austin Chronicle [3]

The most noticeable feature in the nearly 200,000 square foot space is it’s open, sun-showered atrium, inside which sit a set of staircases that would satisfy the Harry Potter nerd in us all (above) [2]. With a goal of 80% natural light inside the space, the architects (noted in the paragraph below) wanted to turn the normal source of light within a library space on it’s head. Usually, you see around 80% artificial light sources inside your typical public library, with daylight accounting for the remaining 20% [3].

Another noteworthy addition is the local and national art installations seemingly around every corner, truly making a new discovery possible with each turn. Also, you won’t find much semblance of normality in the decor, and could easily get lost for an hour looking at the different types of furniture (which we would argue is the most compelling art installation inside the building).

Impeccable design is one of the cornerstones of the Central Library.

Impeccable design is one of the cornerstones of the Central Library.

No shortage of sun in Austin!

No shortage of sun in Austin!

The rooftop patio has fantastic views of the surrounding skyline, and a nature oriented-feel.

The rooftop patio has fantastic views of the surrounding skyline, and a nature oriented-feel.

Interesting at every turn.

Interesting at every turn.

"Austin's never had a community space that truly welcomes families in an informal way to enjoy one another and build community. We saw [the library] as a social hub, a front porch for the city of Austin." - David Lake of Lake|Flato, to the Austin Chronicle. [3]

Designed by Lake | Flato Architects and Shepley Bulfinch Architects, the Central Library is a vessel through which Austin’s most important values rear their heads. It’s Platinum LEED Certified, boasting the largest solar installation in the entirety of downtown on it’s rooftop patio (above). It operates 30% more efficiently than Austin’s energy code requires, giving a nod to the ability of humanity to make small differences that can make a huge collective impact on the environment. This equates to saving enough energy for about 130 households to operate for a full year [1]. A gigantic reservoir (373,000 gallons) collects rainwater and condensation from the HVAC systems, and provides the necessary water for restrooms, as well as irrigation for the surrounding landscape and rooftop garden [2]. In fact, the entire Seaholm EcoDistrict (where the Library is located) is a haven for renewable energy and water usage in Austin’s downtown.

Fun, funky and fresh is the name of the game.

Fun, funky and fresh is the name of the game.

Every room has a completely different feel!

Every room has a completely different feel!

No shortage of outdoor patios here.

No shortage of outdoor patios here.

Here are a couple other stats to help you visualize the scale of the space: there are 6 total floors, with two different floors containing outdoor reading spaces (above). There are 14 Shared Learning Rooms (which can be used for everything from meets to co-working to workshops, and everything in between), and a 350 seat special events center. You have access to 140 public use computers, 150 electronic devices that can be checked out for personal use, 589 seats, an art gallery, bar and café, coffee shop and gift shop [1].

The Central Library has also been showered with awards since it’s completion. The most notable came in 2018, being named one of TIME Magazine World's Greatest Places 2018. Other notable awards [1] given to Central Library are:

There is no doubt that Austin’s new Central Library will act as one of the cornerstones of the downtown district as it continues to grow at record pace. Oh, did we mention that the exterior accent lights that frame the building (first photo above) slowly change color throughout the night, shifting from red to blue (below)? Have a look at some of the beauty that can be found inside of this legendary space below.

Blue to Red, the building is art even in the dark.

Blue to Red, the building is art even in the dark.

One of the many sitting areas available to patrons.

One of the many sitting areas available to patrons.

We sat down here immediately after taking this photo.

We sat down here immediately after taking this photo.

Nothing ordinary going on here: stairwells and run-of-the-mill escalators are a thing of the past.

Nothing ordinary going on here: stairwells and run-of-the-mill escalators are a thing of the past.

The attention to detail is simply astounding!

The attention to detail is simply astounding!

Nothing to do but marvel at how art and architecture merge seamlessly.

Nothing to do but marvel at how art and architecture merge seamlessly.

*See the above caption.

*See the above caption.

How do you not sit down in every chair in the entire place?

How do you not sit down in every chair in the entire place?

A little reading nook, tucked away.

A little reading nook, tucked away.

A more public reading nook.

A more public reading nook.

Even the landscaping around the building is on point!

Even the landscaping around the building is on point!