[Editor’s Note: Louisville has made some pretty amazing achievements in its first 238 years—but it’s made a few blunders along the way, too. This week, we’re launching a new contributed mini-series documenting eight of the best and eight of the worst decisions, ideas, or projects that have profoundly affected the city. This list is by no means complete—and you may have strong opinions of your own about what should be on the best or worst lists. Share your thoughts in the comments section below. Or check out the complete Best/Worst list here.]
“Libraries? Who goes to libraries anymore?” Well, anyone who might say that sure hasn’t visited a library in Louisville lately. Libraries today are far more than just book shelves and dusty tomes. They are activity centers with computers and events such as genealogy seminars and author presentations. They are filled with residents of all ages and backgrounds. And Louisville’s libraries are as strong as ever.
A community must have a solid educational foundation, and the popularity of our libraries is a good barometer in this regard.
Louisville’s libraries not only set a high educational standard, but a strong aesthetic sense of pride as well. From the Carnegie-funded buildings of the early 1900s, to today’s ultra-modern architecture, local libraries have always striven to be architectural landmarks within the community.
The Main Branch Library at Fourth Street and York Street in SoBro set the bar for design expectations high. Originally designed by George Tachau and Lewis Pilcher in 1908, the historic structure is a classic example of Beaux Arts style.
The interior vaulted lobby is a wonder-filled space of artwork, stained glass, and marble staircase. Natural light streams in from the large windows.
A modern expansion in the Brutalist style was added in 1974 by architecture firm Louis & Henry Group, with architect Alvin Voit as the lead designer. While this type of poured concrete style has generated mixed reactions with the public, this addition is masterfully detailed and composed. Its “open plan” interior layout, while now over 40 years old, is still adaptable to today’s technological and programmatic changes.
The smaller branch libraries scattered around the city, likewise, are jewels within their respective neighborhoods. The Bon-Air branch is an attractive mid-century modern facility, while the Portland branch and the Crescent Hill branch are ornate traditional Carnegie buildings.
Another historic gem, the Western Branch Library on Chestnut Street, still stands proud today. St. Matthews’ branch is in a renovated former school and is proposed to undergo an addition and renovation.
As the library system moves into the 21st Century, it is building new branches that are state-of-the-art both in educational resources as well as progressive design. The Fairdale branch offers a hip addition to the south-end neighborhood while the Newburg branch shows off sustainable design and a contemporary, V-shaped “butterfly roof” structure with clerestory windows.
Recognizing its role as a hub in the community, the Louisville Free Public Library system is expanding with a series of regional libraries and striking design. The recently opened Southwest Regional Library shows off dynamic lighting and an angular facade. There’s no mistaking this for one of the old Carnegie designs—it stands in stark modern contrast as an example of what 21st century libraries can be for their neighborhoods.
Louisville’s library system is using design and technology to get the community inside these branches, whether to read a book, search on the computer, or meet in one of the glass-enclosed community rooms.
These facilities are design for grownups and children alike with striking and playful design. And these newer libraries are often the best examples of modern architecture in their surrounding neighborhoods.
Well-thought and well designed: Louisville’s libraries are an educational and visual treasure that all can enjoy.
The Louisville Free Public Library is continuing with its regional expansion, and two more large-scale libraries are planned. Next up is the deeply angular South-Central Library, pictured above.
[Top image of a detail on the facade of the Main Branch Library by saxcubano / Flickr.]