San Francisco, California

As a tagline, “building better libraries for stronger communities” might be a little trite, but it does sum up San Francisco’s ambitions for its branch-improvement program — an ongoing building campaign funded in part by a $105.9 million bond passed by city voters in 2000. The 24 renovated or newly constructed branch libraries that will ultimately result from this program strive to be more than just places to borrow the latest New York Times best seller or surf the Internet. They are intended to serve as community hubs, offering events as diverse as cooking demonstrations, English classes for recent immigrants, or computer instruction.


These aspirations were very much on the minds of the architects responsible for a branch on a corner lot on Ocean Avenue, the Ingleside neighborhood’s main commercial strip. Even though the $3.5 million building, which opened in September 2009, was to be only one story tall and just over 6,000 square feet, “we wanted to give it a civic presence,” says Anne Fougeron, principal of the eponymous firm that designed the library along with Group 4 Architecture.

To distinguish the library from the surrounding jumble of one- and two-story structures that include everything from residential buildings to fast-food restaurants to auto repair shops, designers enclosed the various programmatic elements in discrete, but attached, mostly wood-framed volumes clad in stucco and tile. The 22-foot-tall children’s reading room, egg-shaped in plan, anchors the southwest corner. Two shorter, boxlike wings extend from the taller volume at right angles. One houses administrative functions and the main reading room, while the other contains a teen area and a room for special events. The roof capping the egg stretches out on steel pipe columns to shelter the main entry and seemingly hovers several feet above the Ocean Avenue–facing wing’s actual weatherproof enclosure. The idea was to endow the building with a “grander scale” that belies its true size, explains Fougeron.

Judging from the photos, the strategy works well in strong sunlight, when the building’s various surfaces are rendered by shade and shadow, making the edges of the secondary roof and of other projecting facade elements pop. But on a gray day (like the one when this reporter visited) the elevations appear flat, despite the building’s sculptural qualities. In the absence of shadow, some pieces, like metal grillwork surrounding the top of the egg, seem superfluous.

If the exterior is a bit disappointing (except under certain atmospheric conditions), the interiors are uncluttered and cleanly modern, with tightly coordinated components. The operable skylights over the main reading room offer one example of this integration. They are a key part of the building’s natural ventilation system and they allow daylight to provide the primary source of illumination. But for those times when daylight is not sufficient, designers devised cross-shaped luminaires that they incorporated into the ceiling openings, eliminating the need for potentially visually obtrusive pendant fixtures.

Finishes are basic, with a material palette dominated by gray linoleum and white-painted drywall. Even the children’s reading room, except for apple-green seating built into a bay window, has few instances of bold color. Instead, the architects have created interest with the curved walls and an amoeba-shaped light diffuser suspended below an oculus in the ceiling — elements that Fougeron refers to as “little moments to spark a child’s imagination.”

In the reading room, a set of mahogany-veneer, windowed nooks that face a small outdoor courtyard provide visual warmth. Because the nooks penetrate the exterior wall like a giant piece of indoor-outdoor furniture, they afford a transition between the interior and the court — a space intended both for solitary reading and community events.

On the chilly July afternoon when record was at Ingleside, the courtyard was empty, but almost every seat inside was taken. This popularity might be due to the free Internet access, but it seems just as likely that patrons are drawn to the library’s modest but thoughtful interior environment.

1298 Ocean Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94112

Completion Date:September 2009

Gross square footage: 6,100 sq.ft.

Total construction cost: $3.5 million


San Francisco Public Library

Fougeron Architecture
431 Tehama Street, Suite 1
San Francisco, CA, 94103

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Partner in Charge: Anne Fougeron (FAIA)

Project Manager: Todd Aranaz

Design Team: Ryan Jang, Bassel Samaha (AIA), Michael Pierry (AIA), Vivian Dwyer (AIA)

Associate architect(s)
Group4 Architecture
Wayne Gehrke, David Schnee, Prasasti Arief
211 Linden Ave
South San Francisco, CA, 94080
G.M. Lim Associates

Ingraham Dejesse Associates, inc.

Pola Design + Engineering, inc.

Telamon Engineering, inc.

Patricia O’Brien Landscape Architecture
351 9th St
San Francisco, Ca

Smith, Fause & McDonald, inc.

General contractor
CLW Builders
1329 Noriega St
San Francisco, CA 94122

Construction Manager
San Francisco Department of Public Works

Joe Fletcher

Zendarski Studios

CAD system, project management, or other software used
Autodesk AutoCAD 2008



Exterior cladding
Masonry: Casa Dolce Casa Neutra

Metal/glass curtainwall: Kawneer Aluminum Powder Coated White

Wood: Mahogony

EIFS, ACM, or other: Painted Stucco

Built-up roofing: Jeffco Built-Up Bituminous

Metal: Linden 05300 Metal Decking

Aluminum: AHC Glass 08400 & 08520

Glass: Kawneer 1” Vision, 1” Textures & Metal Panel Spandrel

Skylights: Acralight Custom Skylights

Metal doors: Kawneer Aluminum Powder Coated White

Sliding doors: Hafele Top-Hung Junior

Locksets: Schlage

Hinges: BLUM B71-658

Pulls: Schlage L-Series

Cabinet hardware: Armkea C-Pull 4”

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings: Fireline DXF2924, DXF429N, DXF229

Suspension grid: Rulon Panel Grille Suspended Wood System

Paints and stains: Dunn Edwards, Pantone, Benjamin Moore

Wallcoverings: Georgia-Pacific DensGlass Ultra Gypsum

Plastic laminate: Dupont Corian Regular & Illumination Series

Special surfacing: Abet Laminati 285, 286, 868, 909

Floor and wall tile (cite where used): Dal-Tile Mosaic (Floor) & Semi-Gloss (Wall) – Bathrooms

Resilient flooring: Forbo Marmoleum Fresco 3860

Raised flooring: ASM FS-Series & S-Series

Office furniture: 3M V-Series Tabletop, Agati Boalt Double Carrel, Herman Miller Meridien Pedestal, Bernhardt Strada

Chairs: Herman Miller Eames Molded Ply, Midlands Kestrel Chair,
Fritz Hansen Series 7, HM Limerick Stacking Chair

Tables: Agati Cerino & Roland Table, Midlands Kestrel Leg-Round, Thonet Primaries, ICF Quickly Table, Baker M Collection

Other furniture (use additional sheet if necessary):
Midlands Kestrel Perimeter Chair, David Edwards Serengeti Lounge, Reimers Internet Series Task Chair, Brayton Enea Table 

Interior ambient lighting: Metalux Fluorescents, NEORAY TS

Downlights: Cooper Lighting Lumark Falcon

Task lighting: Birchwood Lighting WP System, LightCorp LED Sprout

Haws 1011 Water Fountain, Sloan ETF-80 Faucets,
American Standard sinks & toilets