Pico Branch Library
Food for Thought: An inventive new library, in a park with a greenmarket, aims to be a beacon for a challenged community.
Architects & Firms
Santa Monica, California
The Pico Branch Library, a recent work by Koning Eizenberg (KE), is the first new public library branch in Santa Monica, California, in nearly 60 years. Its modest predecessor, originally a storefront operation, left the Pico area in 1956, creating what many locals considered a growing void. But by the time Santa Monica addressed that need, decades of transformative digital technologies, as well as neighborhood changes, made the project an unexpected opportunity: a chance to rethink what a 21st-century library could be—particularly as it relates to this community's distinctive character.
“Creating this library was a very community-driven process,” says Eizenberg. Through a series of open public meetings, supplemented by a survey, the city sought neighborhood input on the programming, design, and precise location. Naturally, viewpoints diverged.
There were appeals to make the design “culturally specific to a particular group,” recalls KE principal Nathan Bishop, “but we convinced them that a culturally universal approach would be more inclusive, encouraging all different people to take on the library as their own.”
Even the siting within the park was a point of debate. The city initially favored a prominent position on the boulevard bordering the park, but the architects made a persuasive case for a pavilion-like library near its center. “Not building along an edge,” Bishop points out, “meant not privileging one neighborhood over another.”
Visually light and transparent, the resulting 8,700-square-foot “park pavilion” has the openness of a community living room. From outside, its exuberantly curvy roof edge and fluttering apple-green canopy are a tip-off: this is no stifling, rule-ridden library. Inside, a single reading room extends from children's to adults' areas, under a sculptural, faceted ceiling. Its rolling peaks and occasional daylight scoops punctuate key spots such as the entry area. With all the airflow ducts tucked beneath a raised floor, and round vents underfoot, the ceiling is free for pure expressive form (integrating only sprinklers and flush LED lighting.)
Expanses of glass across the steel moment-frame building evoke the open-air feeling of a park gazebo—yet no blinds are necessary. Deep, stuccoed eaves, continuous with the ceiling planes, provide all-day shading. The facets overhead, lined in acoustic-absorbent plaster, deflect and dampen noise, achieving remarkable quiet even amid abundant activity. “Particularly with municipal projects,” says Eizenberg, “you have to be inventive about getting each element to perform multiple roles.”
In front of the $9.7 million facility, galvanized-steel poles support the canvas canopy while integrating outdoor lighting, plus custom bike racks. And the roofline undulations are not merely eye-catching: they harvest rainwater for the library's toilets.
The project, which includes a freestanding 1,200-square-foot community room, is on track for LEED Platinum certification. Though a fire road separates the two structures, a steel trellis connects them overhead, checkered with PV panels that generate the complex's electricity.
Beyond sustainability (and the ubiquity of computers and electronic offerings), the library's most 21st-century aspect is the absence of a circulation desk. An automated book-sorting system—a big budget item, at $187,000—innovatively frees up librarians to roam the reading room and interact with visitors. A modest information podium, supplanting the traditional hierarchy of a bulky circulation desk, trades old-school rigidity for a more laid-back atmosphere. With ATM-like portals, the sorting system relies on self-checkouts and returns, minimizing staff input.
Since opening last spring, the Pico Branch has logged over 100,000 borrowed items, with more than 84,000 visits and nearly 1,200 new library cards issued.
“I don't know how much credit we can take for this,” says Eizenberg, “but we love hearing about families coming for the entire day for park-and-library outings—or the kid who just doesn't want to leave.”
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Architect of record:
AV/ Low Voltage:
8,700 square feet
Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project:
Cast-in-place board form concrete:
Custom Steel & Glass Glazing Assembly:
Hollow Metal doors:
Exterior Multi-panel Sliding doors:
Interior Pocket Door:
Interior Sliding Door:
Automatic Door Operator:
Drop down auto door seals:
Recessed overhead door stops:
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
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Boardform Cast-In-Place Concrete Walls:
Cast-In-Place Concrete Counter:
Floor and wall tile:
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Reception/ Reading area furniture:
Dimming System or other lighting controls:
Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project:
Exterior Steel Trellis/ Overhangs:
Exterior Cast-In-Place Concrete Benches:
With Salvaged Wood Backing & Picnic Tables:
Exterior Cast-In-Place Concrete Amphitheater Seating, Flatwork, Stairs, & Permeable Concrete Ramp: