Library design earns mostly cheers

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September 24, 2002 // UPDATED 1:31 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Ellen Nigon
Ellen Nigon

Shimmering glass skin and jutting zinc wing are bids for landmark status

On Oct. 1, to a standing room crowd of 800, architect Cesar Pelli unveiled the vision for the new Central Public Library -- which he said needed to be grand, extroverted, welcoming, airy, safe, warm, appeal to a diversity of ages, have immediate access to a wealth of materials, improve service and be flexible.

Reaction ranged from enthusiastic to polite.

"I love it," Mayor R.T. Rybak said. "I think it will be a building with great aspirations that won't go in and out of style. It will be the great civic gathering space that Minneapolis needs."

To be built on the current library block (bounded by Hennepin Avenue, Nicollet Mall, 3rd and 4th streets), the new Central Library is essentially two glass boxes spliced by a wing-like roof and crowned with a planetarium dome. Its completion is scheduled for 2006, with groundbreaking in 2003. [For more description and analysis, see Bette Hammel's column and Robert Gerloff's review, page 9].

Architect Dave Sheppard attended the library unveiling out of professional curiosity. His appraisal: "It's fantastic."

Another local architect, Mark Searls was diplomatic in his praise. "I think (the design) is a very pragmatic response to a very difficult problem of putting the library on such a small site," Searls said.

Friends of the Library executive director Colin Hamilton said, "I think the openness of the glass is going to make it an exciting public space."

"I feel so inspired," said Laurie Savran, president of the Library Board. "We chose the greatest architect -- and the proof is this design. It's going to be a destination place."

Downtown employee Mansour Akhtar stopped by the unveiling over his lunch hour. He took some time to warm to the design. "Initially, I didn't know if it looked so good," Akhtar said. "But I now think it's very nice. It's a really great addition to the city."

Library officials still need to raise approximately $20 million to completely fund the library beyond the $110 million taxpayers allocated in November 2000.

In the last legislative bonding session, Governor Jesse Ventura vetoed a bill to provide $9.5 million to help fund the approximately $34.5 million planetarium.

According to Pelli, architects are designing the library so that the planetarium can be built now or later, depending on funding.

If built, the planetarium would be at the corner of Hennepin Avenue and 3rd Street. "The planetarium will be the thing you see as you cross the Hennepin Avenue Bridge," Pelli said.

Throughout the design phases, Carol Becker, library implementation committee member, has called for "touchable" materials to be used. "I would like more stone," she said. "However, the amount of money we raise will determine that."

Two views

A $125 million bet: will Pelli's Galleria be a great civic space?

by Robert Gerloff

Cesar Pelli, the architect of the Norwest Tower and Gaviidae Commons, is warm, suave, and urbane, a genuine old-school gentleman who radiates emotional warmth and charm. He\'s just the sort you\'d expect to have designed two of Downtown\'s warmest, most elegant landmarks.

So why is the new design for the Minneapolis Central Library as cold as yesterday\'s pizza?

Maybe it was just the icy quality of the computer-generated drawings (a poor substitute for Pelli's famous watercolors), particularly the exteriors. So far, there\'s little in the library renderings to warm Minneapolis hearts.

Which is too bad because, presentation style aside, the building itself is blessedly simple. Pelli broke the library into two five-story blocks and skewed them to fit the diverging grids between Hennepin and Nicollet Avenues. Between the two blocks is a soaring, five-story-high triangular atrium, a grand civic space dubbed the Galleria. Over the Galleria floats the design\'s one truly bold idea, a triangular roof that cantilevers dramatically over both the Nicollet and Hennepin Avenue entrances.

This roof form, however, battles for attention with the Planetarium dome, which grows like a futuristic glass artichoke out of the roof.

There is no funding for the planetarium yet, but Pelli has wisely shown it anyway. Domes, of the futuristic or historical variety, are the single most powerful symbol of civic architecture. Take away the Planetarium dome, and there\'s little to identify the library as the civic heart of Minneapolis rather than just another corporate slab.

But it\'s not the stealth bomber roof or the planetarium dome that is the building\'s most intriguing feature. It\'s the glass. Glass spans from floor to ceiling all around the perimeter. Vertical mullions break the glass into an irregular rhythm that is meant, says Pelli, to look \"like books on a bookshelf.\" The glass is etched with the swirling pattern of a Minnesota snowstorm. Different glass opacities throughout the building will create a subtle, constantly changing pattern across an otherwise flat faade -- an effect lost in the presentation renderings.

On the exterior, the horizontal band of each floor is wrapped in Mankato-Kasota stone -- not the warm golden-buff stone we\'re used to in Downtown buildings, but the \"Mankato Grey\" vein, a much cooler color. Fortunately, the interiors look much warmer and more inviting.

The success of the entire building, however, hinges on one simple question: Will

the Galleria feel like a grand civic space? If it does, then the library will be worth every penny of its $125 million budget. If

it doesn\'t, then expect another new library building in 40 years.

My gut feeling is the Galleria will be wonderful. Each floor opens onto and overlooks the Galleria. A ground-floor caf and bookstore will guarantee pedestrian traffic, and it will likely be filled with light and humming with activity, a much-needed civic space to rival what the IDS Tower\'s Crystal Court once was.

AIA architect Robert Gerloff is Southwest Journal's architecture writer. E-mail him at

Downtown library will be legendary

By Bette Hammel

A big, soaring, zinc-clad wing cantilevered out over a grand five-story public space earmarks Cesar Pelli's new Central Library design as a future civic landmark that promises to be legendary.

Without the cantilevered roof that spans a triangular galleria connecting two rectangles, the new library is utterly straightforward, functional and based on a limited budget, according to Pelli.

At first I worried that it would be too simple, until I heard about the glass faade. \"This is a tapestry in glass,\" said Bill Butler, project architect with Pelli & Associates.

Three kinds of glass will be used for the faade -- translucent, opaque and clear -- adding up to a literally transparent library. Since the north faade (facing 3rd Street) will house the public areas such as reading rooms, these will be clad in clear and translucent glass, while the more private south areas (facing 4th Street) will have harder-to-see-through glass panels.

Principal architect Fred Clark said, \"We wanted a light, warm white, so we are interspersing opaque with clear a bit like a Japanese lantern.\"

This very vertical space will not be walled off from the library's functions as the old hallway was, but will be clad in glass and, better yet, will have four levels of skyways overhead generating movement.

Inside, on the north side, the ground floor holds the busiest, most public areas, including a children's corner and caf overlooking Nicollet Mall, a reading room, fiction, language and literature and circulation services.

Business, science and technology will be on the second floor; administration, art and periodicals on the third floor; history and social science on the fourth floor, with the Athenium and Minneapolis

special collections.

A 235-seat public auditorium and meeting rooms will be off the skyway on the south side, with a teen center cantilevered out towards Hennepin Avenue.

The position of the planetarium dome atop the corner of Hennepin and 3rd Street adds drama to the library. Without it, I'm not so sure it will look as distinctive, especially viewing it from the north and the river when you cross the Hennepin Avenue Bridge.

I think it's a good building that looks like it belongs here, not like a structure that flew in from another planet, and well-suited to an odd street grid.

True, a glass faade can be cold, sometimes forbidding. But in this technological age, new types of glass are constantly being developed, and from the samples I saw at the event, they look quite beautiful. Let's hope this new see-through library, a great new cultural resource for the city and state, will shine as much as the community that has helped finance it.