Concepts
02 | 2021
11/13
© Perkins&Will

The library in Washington, D.C.

In Washington, D.C., the multilane Interstate 395 separates America’s showpiece park, the National Mall, from the Southwest quadrant. For a long time, this border also marked a social divide. This is now changing, as restaurants are opening up on the banks of the Potomac, modern apartment buildings are replacing older ones from the 1950s, and the soccer players of D.C. United hone their skills at their local training facility. The neighborhood is experiencing an upswing, and an important link between its old and new residents is the Southwest Library, which was recently rebuilt by Turner.

A BEACON OF LIGHT AT A PARK

The new library looks light and airy. The entire facade consists of a panoramic window, which draws in the adjacent park and lets natural daylight suffuse the whole building. Solid wood pillars carry the pavilion-like structure. The folded plate roof made of dowel-laminated timber is a particularly eye-catching feature. The Southwest Library is the first municipal building in Washington D.C. to feature this material. To create this material, planks of pinewood are pressed closely together. Compressed air is then used to shoot hardwood pegs into the planks. The different densities of the two types of wood cause the planks to join together without the need for screws or adhesives. A computer-controlled system can cut the resulting panels to the architects’ specifications with great precision, making the parts easy to work with.

To create this material, planks of pinewood are pressed closely together. Compressed air is then used to shoot hardwood pegs into the planks. The different densities of the two types of wood cause the planks to join together without the need for screws or adhesives. A computer-controlled system can cut the resulting panels to the architects’ specifications with great precision, making the parts easy to work with.

“The factory delivered the individual components as custom-made parts that we put together at the construction site,” says Turner project manager Joe Buchbauer. Although this might sound simple, it was in fact a major logistical feat. That’s because StructureCraft, which is located in Vancouver, Canada, is the only manufacturer in North America to make the wood components that were used for the library’s ceilings and floors.

“THE FACTORY DELIVERED THE INDIVIDUAL COMPONENTS AS CUSTOM-MADE PARTS.”
JOE BUCHBAUER, PROJECT MANAGER TURNER CONSTRUCTION

“The factory delivered the individual components as custom-made parts that we put together at the construction site,” says Turner project manager Joe Buchbauer. Although this might sound simple, it was in fact a major logistical feat. That’s because StructureCraft, which is located in Vancouver, Canada, is the only manufacturer in North America to make the wood components that were used for the library’s ceilings and floors.

 SUSTAINABLE AND COST-EFFICIENT

“Everything was originally planned to occur just in time,” states Buchbauer. However, an interim storage site was set up because of the threat of a border closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The advantages of building with prefabricated parts became especially clear during this time. “The risk of infections was reduced because construction was sped up and fewer workers were on site,” says Buchbauer, who didn’t register a single case of the Covid-19 virus at his construction site. As an example of how the approach accelerated construction, Buchbauer mentions that only ten days were needed to complete the outer shell, which would have taken eight weeks to build using conventional construction techniques.

The streamlined construction technique clearly didn’t diminish the new library’s aesthetics or functionality. The building is also very sustainable. “We managed to keep the carbon footprint as small as possible,” says Buchbauer with delight. This is due in part to the use of wood, which is a renewable raw material, as well as to the building’s technology. The folded plate roof surfaces are covered with solar panels, and excess energy is stored in large batteries. “It lets us generate half of the electricity we need ourselves,” adds Buchbauer. If there is a power outage in the neighborhood, local residents can also recharge their phones here, if necessary.

Moreover, the flat parts of the roof are covered with vegetation, which absorbs CO2. Another interesting feature is that the large glass wall faces north to a small park and a playground. “As a result, the rooms are bright, but visitors aren’t blinded by sunlight,” says Buchbauer. Daylight illuminates 90 percent of the building’s interior. The library’s layout also saves energy for cooling the building, which would otherwise be considerable in subtropical Washington, D.C. The overall concept meets the highest quality level of the LEED standards for environmentally friendly construction: Platinum. In addition to meeting all of the various technical criteria for sustainability, the library has a lot of space for reading, both inside and on a spacious outdoor porch, as well as computer workstations, meeting and conference rooms, and, last but not least, pleasant work areas for the employees. The building fulfills its main task: to serve as a meeting place and cultural center for the people in the Southwest quadrant.

Text: Marius Leweke