The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has honored Burton Barr Phoenix Central Library in Phoenix, Arizona, designed by Will Bruder Architects, with its 25-Year Award, which is conferred on a building that has set a precedent for the last 25-35 years and continues to set standards of excellence for its architectural design and significance.
A vision for the library emerged in 1988 when former Mayor Terry Goddard, committed to advancing the city’s architecture, issued a bond to fund a new central library. While Goddard hoped to attract both national and international contenders for the commission the following summer, he did not have to look far to find the Phoenix-based joint venture between William P. Bruder-Architect, Ltd, and DWL Architects and Planners. The newly created bruderDWLarchitects received a unanimous vote by the city’s selection committee.
Despite its origin as a man-made artifact, the 280,000-sq.ft. library, with its weathered-copper clad and sculpturally curved east and west façades, has been likened to the many mesas found throughout Arizona. Rising above the low-slung urban fabric of the residential and commercial neighborhoods surrounding it, the library’s glazed north and south façades provide a fitting contrast and reveal its true nature, during the day and at night, by offering glimpses of its one million volume collection and the energy of its patrons.
Inside, the library was organized simply as a warehouse of knowledge across its five levels. Patrons can enter from either the west or east, where stainless steel clefts in the façades mark the entrances. Waiting to greet them are luminous passages that slope to the library’s 90’-tall, skylit atrium as well as three high-speed glass elevators and a translucent grand staircase that rises from a reflecting pool. The architecture helps simplify the layout of the library’s collection and enhances accessibility. On each level, the glazed north and south walls provide sweeping views of Phoenix’s urban grid and the mountains that lay just beyond it. On the fifth level, which houses the library’s nonfiction book collection, community tables that can accommodate up to 320 readers sit below the reading room’s 32’-high skylight-punctured roof structure.
Working closely with Ove Arup and Partners, known today as Arup Group, the architects envisioned the library as a hallmark of passive design from the outset. Designing before the creation of the LEED® program for sustainable design, the team optimized passive energy goals through high-efficiency and innovative mechanical and lighting solutions, chiefly 12” precast concrete walls, solar-shaded glazing systems, and sophisticated gas chillers. In 2010, the library received a LEED-EB Silver rating plaque.
After 25 years of heavy use and necessary shifts in functionality, the library still bears its architectural identity and reflects the need for libraries that can accommodate change. The architecture firm, now known as, Will Bruder Architects, has served as the library’s on-call architect since it opened, leading the repurposing of its spaces and the addition of new departments, such as its college and vocational resource, located where microfiche and outdated reference collections once lived, and its meeting and workspace intended to nurture startups.