Los Gatos, California

With an expansive glazed facade and warm wood ceilings that subtly reflect light, the Los Gatos Public Library emits a soft glow at all waking hours, but the best time to see it is at dusk. That's when the lighting program switches on and slowly sends a wash of amber (or blue or purple) across a band of frosted-glass panels tucked at the base of the second-floor windows. The color change, which spreads from the center of the facade outward, takes about 40 minutes to complete and happens almost imperceptibly. It's the kind of touch that helps the already lamplike library advertise itself as a beacon for this small, mountain-edged city south of San Francisco Bay. The stretch of glass that houses RGB color-changing LEDs was originally meant to be empty, a leftover space from the raised-floor ventilation and electrical system. “We were just going to put a blank thing there,” recalls Chris Noll, principal of the Berkeley, California'based firm Noll & Tam Architects. “And I went, 'Oh, I want to do something with that. Why don't we have some fun?' ”

Working with Illuminosa lighting consultants, the architects chose the concept of a lantern in the woods for the usual associations between knowledge and light, but also to help the public see the building on a site with a large setback and ample tree cover. They designed the steel-frame building as a long, transparent rectangle and oriented the facade to capture northern light. At two stories and 30,250 square feet, the LEED Gold'certified library triples the size of its old quarters inside the neighboring civic center. The new building, which opened in February 2012, includes stacks and storage for the library's 120,000-item collection, a children's library, a reading room, a computer lab, and a community meeting room, as well as a teen center and a local-history section that pop out from the north and south facades, respectively, in a matched pair of cantilevered bay windows.

In keeping with the woodsy setting, the architects surfaced the facade with a natural palette of stone veneer, wood-veneer composite paneling, and ceramic tile. These choices, though, almost read as the backdrop for the interior of the library, whose light-washed maple ceilings seem to push out through the windows and become part of the exterior. “You don't see the vertical surfaces when you're approaching the building; you see the lit ceilings,” says Alice Prussin, principal of Illuminosa. “If there's light bathing those surfaces, that is what reflects through the windows.”

Though the wide site gave the architects an ideal north-south orientation, the designers needed to bring light all the way through the 175-foot-long building. They solved this problem by inserting a tall central spine along the length of the structure, 35 feet above the ground floor. Then they lined the length of the raised roof with clerestory windows that bring daylight into the core. Lower wings on either side provide cozy dropped ceilings over the stacks that enable the light from recessed fluorescent strips to reach the bottom shelves. Along the north and south faces of the building, the ceiling kicks back up a foot to boost the amount of daylight at the perimeter. As dusk approaches, additional fluorescent ceiling fixtures, on dimming and sensor controls, gradually illuminate the extended window walls. “You need a space that's filled with light to make the building glow,” says Noll. “If we brought the stacks out to the edge, it wouldn't work as a concept.”

Punctuating the rows of stacks, large, loopy wood-veneer fixtures by Spanish designer Miguel Herranz hang from the ceiling. “With such a long spine, you want to help people be aware of the whole volume but not make it seem too narrow,” says Prussin. On the ground level, the children's library gets even more playful. Because of structural beams above the ceiling here, the architects couldn't jack up the height the way they did on the floor above. Instead they captured the space between the beams with a custom-fabricated undulating aluminum ceiling. Cutouts of spaceships and galaxies, backlit by yellow pendant fixtures, give the room a celestial theme.

It was the library-as-lantern approach that helped sell the tradition-minded town on a modern building, says Noll. “They were going, 'Ahh! It's going to be steel and glass and stone; it's going to be cold and modern and not inviting,' ” he recalls. “The lighting is a big part of achieving that warm and welcoming feeling. So we got a very modern building past the design-review people.”


Formal name of building:
Los Gatos Library

100 Villa Ave, Los Gatos, CA 95030

Completion Date:
February 2012

Gross square footage:

Total construction cost:

Town of Los Gatos

Noll & Tam Architects
729 Heinz Avenue #7
Berkeley CA 94710
510-542-2200 phone
510-542-2201 fax

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Christopher Noll, AIA, Principal in Charge
Dannielle Sergent, Project Manager - Design
Abraham Jayson, Project Manager - Construction
Matthew Wadlund, Project Designer
Tad Costerison, AIA, Project Architect
Trina Goodwin, Interiors Architect

Architect of record:
Noll & Tam Architects

Structural - Ingraham DeJesse Associates
MEP - Glumac
Civil - Sandis

Landscape: Joni L. Janecki Associates
Lighting: Illuminosa (formerly known as Alice Prussin Lighting Design)

Signage - Matthew Williams Design
Cost - Davis Langdon
Green Building Consultant - Simon & Associates
Library Programmer - Page + Moris

General contractor:
Bogard Construction

David Wakely Photography

CAD system, project management, or other software used:



Structural system
Steel moment frame & buckling restrained braced frame structure. Custom exposed steel columns.

Exterior cladding
Exterior composite wood panels ' Prodema North America “Prodex”
Exterior ceramic tile ' Crossville, Inc. “NOW” Series

Windows, Curtain Walls, Storefronts ' Kawneer

Sliding doors:
Sliding door system off periodicals room that opens to patio ' Sunflex Wall Systems

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings:
Wood Panel Ceilings ' Rulon Company “Aluratone”
Screen Ceilings (periodical room and teen area) ' Interlam
Main ceiling acoustical panels ' Armstrong World Industries, Inc. “TechZone”

Elevator Wall Panels ' Rulon Company “Aluratone”

Solid surfacing:
Countertops ' 3Form, Inc. “Chroma”

Special surfacing:
Floor and wall tile:
Stove paving tile on exterior plaza & base of building & interior lobby ' Il Casone Colombino Sandstone

Carpet (adult and teen areas) ' Durkin “Atmospheric Loop” and “Electric Strings”
Carpet (children's area) ' Karastan “Fascination” and “Mesmerized”

Special interior finishes unique to this project:
Glass walls of group study room ' 3Form, Inc. “Seaweed”

Reader chairs ' Worden “Cummings”
Lounge chairs ' Steelcase “Coalesse Alina” and “Nurture Malibu”
Computer chairs ' Steelcase “Cachet”
Children's Chairs ' TMC “Plover”
Teen Area Reading & Computer Chairs ' Knoll “Gigi”
Teen Area Lounge furniture ' Knoll “Bird”chair, Neinkamper “Blob”chair, Herman Miller “Tato/Tatino/Tatone”egg-shaped bolsters, OFFECCT “Flower” tables

Tables ' Agati “Cerino”
Children's Tables ' TMC “Kestrel”

Other furniture:
Library shelving/stacks ' Systems & Space
Children's Area Alphabet Whirlygig & Learning Manipulatives ' Burgeon Group, custom made

Interior ambient lighting:
Linear: Zumtobel, Linear Lighting, Vode Lighting, Peerless
Uplights: Elliptipar
Cove Lighting: Finelite, Color Kinetics
Focal & Task Lighting: Amerlux, Vode
Downlights: Kurt Versen, Lightolier, Gotham
Decorative: LZF, Poulsen, Limberg, Bruck
Exterior: Bega, Versen, Winona
LED railings ' HDI railings
Color changing floodlights ' Color Kinetics
Dimming System or other lighting controls: Lutron Quantum

Energy management or building automation system:
Trane building management system
Windows on the World ' energy monitoring educational display system in lobby

Photovoltaic system:
Glass exposed solar panels in clerestory ' Sanyo H.I.T.

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
Under-floor air distribution system
Solar water heating
Bioswale in landscape in front of building
Lighting control system / daylighting controls / electrical surge system to reduce unwanted exterior light during peak solar times
West & south facing facades have exterior sunshade louvers (by Kawneer) to reduce direct glare
Natural daylighting for over 70% of the space
LED Lighting in parking lot

Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project:
Two-story etched glass wall feature in stairway ' “Voice-Over” by artist Sheri Simons
Children's Area Nurdle Nooks ' Artist Ben Phipps
Children's Area Celestial Ceiling ' custom pre-fabricated (Noll & Tam design)