The DC Public Library system has garnered a reputation for creating functional public buildings that are also beautiful spaces. The Southwest Library will join DCPL’s collection of recently revamped facilities, reopening on Saturday, May 15, with an $18 million building.
DC’s renovated libraries are designed to fit in with their neighborhoods, says DCPL Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan. Sustainable architecture firm Perkins&Will created the distinctive exterior and sleek, modern interior, drawing inspiration from the area’s mid-century modern architecture.
Planked ceilings pay homage to the wooden canopy at nearby theater Arena Stage. A massive photo spanning the library’s two floors depicts the Potomac River in 1885, and it’s functional, too: Made of perforated metal with felt backing, the artwork helps absorb sound in the open space.
The facility doesn’t just reflect the neighborhood—it also reflects the needs of the neighborhood’s residents. Conversations with the community clarified a shared desire for more publicly accessible meeting spaces.
The new library offers 14 formal and informal meeting spaces with a range of features such as big screens and whiteboards, outdoor seating, and a classroom on the second floor that will be outfitted with tools like 3D printers, laser cutters, and sewing machines. A main conference room on ground level is outfitted with assisted listening services, and the room is accessible through a separate entrance for after-hour events.
On the other side of the first floor, toddlers can easily snag books off of low shelves, and kids tables are adorned with lamps that double as mobiles. Currently, the fixtures are empty: Once programming begins, children will be able to display their artwork on the mobile’s clips.
“When kids can see some of their own creation in a space, it makes it feel more homey,” says Reyes-Gavilan. “They can recognize their own contributions to the beauty of the space.”
Eventually, their works will be joined by a large wall mural to be painted by a local artist. There’s a defined spot to park strollers by the children’s books, and a playground just outside, framed within the library’s vast windows.
A covered porch area looks out onto the park, extending the library’s reading spaces past the walls themselves. Although the rebuild was planned before Covid, the embrace of outdoor accommodations and high ceilings suits our newfound yearning for visible distance.
The airy building received a LEED Platinum certification for its eco-friendly architecture, the first DCPL facility to earn the award. The building performs 52 percent better in energy consumption than a code-dictated building of the same size and usage, says Jaspreet Pahwa, DCPL’s director of capital planning and construction. In fact, half of the library’s energy comes from solar panels affixed to the vegetative roof.
The library will open at 50 percent capacity amid ongoing Covid restrictions. Bookworms can access the facility Monday through Saturday from 10 AM to 6 PM.
Southwest Library. 900 Wesley Pl., SW