Terra cotta rain screen transforms brutalist eyesore into energy-efficient community space.
Considered an aesthetic and functional failure almost since its construction in 1974, the old public library in Lawrence, Kansas, was overdue for a renovation four decades later. Gould Evans‘ challenge was to transform the low-slung brutalist behemoth, a poor environmental performer lacking both adequate daylighting and a sense of connection to the community, into an asset. “The desire was to try to come up with a building that basically reinvented the library for the community,” said vice president Sean Zaudke. Rather than tacking an addition on to one end of the existing structure, the architects elected to wrap a 20,000-square-foot reading room and open stacks area around the old facade. In so doing, they altered the exterior for the better, swapping bare concrete for an earth-hued terra cotta rain screen punctuated by plentiful glazing. They also significantly enhanced the library’s environmental performance, with early estimates suggesting that the new Lawrence Public Library will see a 50 percent reduction in energy usage despite a 50 percent increase in square footage.
The decision to entirely enclose the old building within the addition was a critical component of the architects’ sustainability strategy. “It allowed us to come up with a continuous facade utilizing a continuous insulation system,” explained Zaudke. “It helped a lot with energy performance.” Gould Evans chose a terra cotta rain screen from NBK to better tie the library to its surroundings. The building is located in an interstitial zone, immediately adjacent to buildings constructed in the 1950s but not far from Lawrence’s thriving historic downtown. “We selected terra cotta because it could play by both sets of rules,” said Zaudke. “It has an historic connotation, but it’s also a much more modern-looking material.”
Daylighting was another of the architects’ key concerns. “Because there were so few windows in the old library, wherever you went there was a sort of phototropic behavior,” said Zaudke. “People just gathered around the windows. The rest was not as utilized.” Gould Evans significantly altered the user experience by creating an open reading room within the wraparound addition, all of which is exposed to daylight. Other library functions are contained within the core, which in turn is lit both by a continuous clerestory and a series of Solatubes. The clerestory also prevents glare within the reading room by illuminating the inside of the facade.
Gould Evans used prescriptive data to determine the overall balance of terra cotta to glass on the new facade—about 60/40—as well as on each exterior wall. To reduce thermal gain on the east and west faces, the architects placed terra cotta baguettes over each horizontal slit window. Together, the baguettes and the depth of the wall act as sunshades.
As for Lawrence Public Library’s old concrete facade, “we didn’t want to just pretend it wasn’t there,” said Zaudke. Instead, Gould Evans partially overlaid it with a tongue-in-groove system of unstained wood. “The concrete had a harsh feel to it,” explained Zaudke. “By wrapping it with wood and revealing it in places, there’s this nice dialog that occurs. Everywhere it opens up is where some core function reveals itself—it’s an interesting dynamic.” At the library entrance, the architects brought the wood outside, encased in glass to protect it from the elements, said Zaudke. “That vocabulary of cracking open the library, of making it accessible, is present at the entry.”