Posts about Silver Spring Library
On Tuesday, Montgomery County unveiled a revised design for the Silver Spring Library, to be built at the corner of Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street in downtown Silver Spring. While the plans aren't too different from the "final" drawings we saw last fall, officials say the new design will actually create a better building while saving the county money.
The Silver Spring Library design today (left) and last year (right).
Images courtesy of the Lukmire Partnership.
"I think we've gotten to the point where the design where it now stands is actually an improvement over the initial design, and at the same time has gotten us much closer to the budget as to where we need to be," architect Greg Lukmire of the Arlington-based Lukmire Partnership Lukmire Partnership told TBD.
The $29 million, 65,000-square foot building will still contain an art gallery and studios, community meeting rooms, county government offices and a Purple Line stop, not to mention a library. What's changed is how those uses will interact with each other. On the ground level, there will still be a coffee shop and an art gallery sponsored by Pyramid Atlantic, but studios associated with the gallery have been moved from the second to sixth floors, freeing up room downstairs for community meeting spaces.
The three-story library, with separate levels for young-adult books, adult books and children's books, remains much as it was before. Even the renderings (PDF!) on the County's website show the same interior drawings as last year.
A proposed pedestrian bridge connecting the library to the Wayne Avenue Garage across the street also remains in discussion. But a suite of government offices on the seventh floor, meant to contain the non-profit African-American Health Program, Asian-American Health Initiative and Latino Health Initiative, has been downsized from 16,000 to 10,000 square feet and may be eliminated altogether.
Outside, however, the library looks far sleeker than before. Last November, Lukmire presented the exterior design as a metaphor for an open book. The idea was compelling, but the result was a big, heavy box, albeit one covered in glass, that seemed to overwhelm the street below.
Now, the architects have turned that big box into a little lantern holding just the library stacks and reading rooms, which will glow at night when all the lights are on. Getting rid of the angled canopy in the original design, which Lukmire referred to as the book's "cover," helps the Purple Line station underneath feel larger and brighter.
The new library, shown in elevation, has masonry in addition to glass.
Image courtesy of the Lukmire Partnership.
The so-called "service spaces" of the building, like staff rooms and service closets, are tucked behind a masonry wall, which contrasts with the glass walls and helps the complex blend in with its brick- and stone-clad neighbors. Perhaps it's a little too familiar, as the grey stone resembles that already used on the District Court building at Second and Apple avenues, the Civic Building at Ellsworth and Fenton, and even the Crescent condominiums next door.
Thankfully, Lukmire has presented four different color schemes for the stone and metal used on the library's fašade, which will hopefully assuage the fears of people, myself included, who weren't too excited about the bright orange we saw last fall.
Four proposed color schemes for the Silver Spring Library.
Image courtesy of the Lukmire Partnership.
My favorite feature of the new design is the "Silver Spring Library" marquee at the corner of Fenton Street and Wayne Avenue. Throughout the years-long design process, residents have complained that the new complex shortchanges the library for a bunch of other uses. Putting the word "library" on a big sign outside the building will hopefully emphasize that, despite all of the different things happening there, this place is still one where you can borrow and read books.
The rooftop terrace outside the sixth-floor art studios also sounds exciting, especially the views. I'm worried that this space may not be as accessible to the public as it would've been in the original design when community rooms opened onto the terrace, especially after the controversy last summer over space given to Round House Theatre inside the Civic Building. Ideally, the rooftop could become something like the one atop VisArts, a similar art gallery-and-studio adjacent to the Rockville Memorial Library, though I wonder if any rap videos will be filmed there.
Fortunately, another year of waiting has yielded an even better design for the new Silver Spring Library. While some work has begun on its site at Wayne and Fenton, we'll have to wait at least another year for the project to be completed, as Don Scheuerman from the county's Department of General Services says you won't be checking out any books here until January 2014.
Check out this photoset with more renderings, drawings and plans.
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett's isn't giving up on proposals for an anti-urban skybridge connecting the Silver Spring library to a parking garage.
This past weekend, Leggett unveiled concept sketches for the new library at Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street. It strongly evokes images of "an open book," along with large glass windows said to represent "the openness of government" and limestone similar to that in other Silver Spring buildings. A coffee shop and art gallery will line the ground floor, with artist studios above, followed by three stories of library. Two more floors on top will contain community meeting space and some county offices.
The design also leaves room for a future bridge across Wayne Avenue to the adjacent parking garage. Original plans contained the bridge, but urbanists protested that this costly endeavor would only draw pedestrian traffic off the surface streets, encouraging faster traffic and road designs hostile to those who wish to cross at ground level.
Existing Silver Spring plans prohibited bridges, and the Montgomery County Council voted to sustain that plan, with only Councilmember George Leventhal (at-large) voting for the bridge. Instead, to accommodate persons with disabilities, the library will contain a small amount of handicapped parking on site. Nevertheless, Leggett hasn't given up on the opportunity to put cars above pedestrians by building the bridge, and Duchy Trachtenberg might be wavering on the issue.
In his letter to the County Council this summer (large PDF), Leggett insisted that "accessibility and sustainability" drove his recommendation:
The primary rationale is not one solely of safety; it is primarily one of accessibility and sustainability. The use of the existing underutilized parking garage is a "green" decision which saves the use of materials and taxpayer dollars which would have been otherwise needed to provide new on-site parking for the library. The disadvantage of utilizing the existing garage is the greatly increased travel path to the library for many patronsIt's funny Leggett should mention a "greatly increased travel path." That's exactly what county DOT staff would create with their secret vehicular underpass at the Medical Center Metro that forces pedestrians to walk over 100 feet out of the way, just to facilitate greater car volume in and out of the NIH and future Walter Need National Military Medical Center site. The direct Metro station entrance would have added both accessibility and sustainability, but apparently speeding up cars is more important.
— including, but not limited to, the elderly and disabled. The bridge is being proposed to address this concern.
Leggett's and his staff view transportation through the lens of the driver. Sure, Montgomery is a suburban county with a lot of drivers, but it also has fantastic walkable places and some of the best transit of any suburban jurisdiction in the nation. But Leggett sees auto-oriented development as natural and walkable development as dangerous. He views the proper role of streets as carrying as many cars as possible above all, with the needs of pedestrians and transit secondary.
As with Gaithersburg West versus White Flint, Leggett cleverly ties in themes of sustainability, "Smart Growth," and more to justify suburban development patterns and oppose urban ones. His PR staff are remarkably defensive about it, too, saying I "just don't get it." It's Leggett who seems not to get it. He doesn't seem like a stupid man, but is listening too much to traditionalist transportation officials who can rattle off Level of Service letter grades but, despite some terrific examples in their county, don't recognize the value of walkable places designing around people and transit instead of driving above all.
Proposals for a skybridge connecting Silver Spring's new library to the adjacent parking garage became even more remote yesterday, as Montgomery County's Health and Human Services and Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committees voted to uphold the existing prohibitions against skybridges in downtown Silver Spring.
The Silver Spring CBD Urban Renewal Plan prohibits the construction of a pedestrian bridge across Wayne Avenue. The "parking access" bridge was being proposed to connect the Wayne Avenue garage to the new Silver Spring library.
From the outset of the project, library designs have included a parking access bridge. This outdated design concept from the 1960s destroys streetlife, vitality and development in urban areas, and creates automobile-dominated roadways that fail to meet the needs of those on foot or bike.
Cities across the country, including Baltimore, have been going to great lengths over the last few years to dismantle these skywalks in an effort to revitalize urban communities.
To alleviate Councilmembers' concerns about ADA access, planning staff developed a plan to accommodate the required 7 handicapped parking spaces in addition to a drop off location on the library site itself, providing safe and convenient access for those with mobility limitations. This strategy is more cost-effective and has significantly fewer negative impacts for downtown Silver Spring.
The full Council will make the final decision next Tuesday, July 28th.
Added by David: The Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee comprises
Nancy Floreen, Roger Berliner, and George Leventhal Mike Knapp, Nancy Floreen, and Marc Elrich. the same committee voted for the I-270 widening last week, but did the right thing on this issue. Health and Human Services includes Leventhal, Duchy Trachtenberg, and Nancy Navarro. Update: I got the PHED committee mixed up with the Transportation & Environment committee. Oops.
The Council also voted to sustain the parking subsidy for libraries, which spends precious public funds to make sure it's free for people to drive to the Rockville library, but not free to take the bus or Metro there.
Last Thursday, I attended the public meeting on the new Silver Spring Library. As David already posted, the consultants, RKTL, have proposed a variety of options for discussion. Only four options remain: 1b, 1c, 6a, and 6b. The others had to be disqualified, as some were impractical for the library, while others wouldn't attract a private developer to build the residential and commercial portions of the project.
While none are perfect, all of the options fit with the fundamental walkable urban character of Silver Spring, and specifically this site at Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street. The consultants continually stressed how the concepts need to positively interact with their surroundings. No one in the room seemed to question that fundamental goal. I personally see that as a little bit of progress in the big picture.
I wasn't sure why the concepts all showed surface Purple Line tracks. This seemed to be jumping the gun, since the High Investment LRT option calls for a tunnel in that area. However, the project team explained that it would be much easier to account for a potential surface Purple Line alignment and then later take it out, than the opposite. Fair enough.
Most options contain a pedestrian bridge from the second story of the Wayne Avenue parking garage to the library. I personally think this is a dumb move, since the Wayne Avenue garage already has elevators and is ADA compliant. However, I don't feel the bridge will kill street life in the area. It will just turn into a waste of money, underused and forgotten until the city has to sink more money into repairing or demolishing it.
I predict that once this project is complete, most people will want to enter the library at street level to check out the retail and street life in the plaza/small park at the entrance of the library. Most who park in the Wayne Avenue garage will never even notice the bridge. Bridge proponents insist that it will be better for families with small children, the elderly, and the handicapped. This might sound harsh, but I personally am sick of seeing people hide behind these groups as they push their anti-urban, suburban/modernist views on the rest of us. The bridge is a bad idea but a largely harmless bad idea, in my view. Either way, I will send a letter opposing the bridge to the feedback email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. I urge you to do the same.
The Silver Spring library has less floor space than the Germantown, Rockville, and Wheaton libraries, even though Silver Spring is both denser, and more populous. I can understand Rockville being bigger, since Rockville is the Montgomery County seat and therefore the flagship. However, Wheaton? Germantown? Olney?
The options being discussed follow two strategies to developing the site into a mixed-use place. One is to mix the different uses in the same physical building. This strategy is complicated if a private developer builds the office, retail, and residential portions of the project. Building anything that is a part of an existing building is politically problematic and expensive. Alternately, the county could build the library as its own unit, the have the private developer build the residential, retail, and office portions on the site, but in an adjacent building. The meeting seemed lean towards the second course of action, because of the realities of attracting a private developer.
Finally, the topic that seems to be the big hot-button topic in urban planning today: parking. The consultant and the citizens at the meeting acknowledge that the library could easily use the existing Wayne Avenue garage for its parking. Hence the idea for the pedestrian bridge. According to the consultant, options 6a and 6b both could allow for the construction of two stories of underground parking, in addition to separate underground lots that would supply one space per residential unit.
I understand including the option to build one space per residential unit, to to be palatable to a private developer who might be cautious about building housing without parking. But as for the lot under the library, exclusively for the library, I see this as a waste of money. Underground parking structures are the most expensive kind of parking to build. The Wayne Avenue garage has plenty of spaces, even at peak usage. The library will be used by many, many people who will arrive on foot. Also, many people will get there on the Purple Line, with its adjacent station. I don't think that the county should spend lots and lots of money on an underground garage that will become DC USA II, just to satisfy the car-loving tendencies of anti-urban thinkers, especially when there is already a huge garage right across the street. Once again, I see the redundant underground garage as a bad idea, but a largely harmless bad idea in the view of viable, vibrant walkable urbanism. I will make sure to mention it in my email to the planners as well.
Overall, developers on the new Silver Spring Library have been largely positive. Most of the meeting centered around the practical concerns of providing library services. And I do applaud the county for only considering concepts that fit in with the existing walkable urban character of Downtown Silver Spring.
Back in February, when this blog had recently launched, the issue that generated the most comments was... skybridges. This 1960s design fad, which segregated pedestrians into elevated crossings from building to building, made streets less safe and damaged the pedestrian character in cities like Des Moines and Denver.
The Washington area has another proposed skybridge, reflecting all the outmoded urban design thinking, in Silver Spring. The library is moving to the corner of Wayne, Fenton, and Bonifant, right at the border between the commercial downtown area and the adjacent residences and literally in the path of the proposed Purple Line. The most recent presentation calls this a "unique opportunity" to create a vibrant pedestrian streetscape, especially along Fenton Street.
Unfortunately, the project's consultants seem to feel that they can best ensure a vibrant streetscape by building a bridge over Wayne Avenue. According to a letter resident Colleen Mitchell sent to Montgomery County,
During the presentation at the October 21st meeting, the consultants actually stated that the only way to safely cross Wayne Avenue is to construct a pedestrian bridge. Frankly, this is archaic thinking and runs counter to current planning concepts which consistently emphasize designing "complete streets" with roadways that are equally safe for all modes of transportation. Pedestrian bridges reduce street life and activity, create dark, unwelcoming places underneath, present security issues, and allow roadways to become a higher speed facility with reduced safety for pedestrians.This project also seems to have too much parking. The proposed skybridge would connect to yet another parking garage, across the street. Downtown Silver Spring has lots and lots of parking; we don't need more for every new use.
Many of the designs include the skybridge and few retail entrances along the street. Look at the ground floor plan for the first option, 1a (left). It doesn't engage the street very well at all. There's this strip of park separating the entrances from the street, and people then have to cross the train tracks to go in and out of the building. I know that the Purple Line will run at-grade and people and trains can share the same space, but we still shouldn't try to make the tracks a sidewalk at the same time, where there will be especially high pedestrian volumes going in and out of the building.
An option like #3 (right, above) looks quite a bit better, with retail and library entrances right out to the sidewalk. Still, all of these designs remind me of Rob Goodspeed's excellent Ballston essay and the "structure of voids." Why do we need open space at all on this site? Almost every building built in urbanizing suburban areas like Silver Spring and Ballston seems to involve some open space. I know that many residents ask for it, and in many areas, the zoning requires it.
But such open space rules usually create small and underutilized plazas that break up the flow of buildings and isolate pedestrians. Real urban neighborhoods have little open space on private property, except a small landscaped buffer, and no large gaps in the streetwall. The street and sidewalk itself is the public space. Larger parks within walking distance provide the opportunities for recreation, sitting outside, dog walking, etc. Silver Spring should strive for a similar design, instead of the motley constellation of random triangular green spaces that sound so good but end up so unsatisfying.
- Bikeshare is a gateway to private biking, not competition
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools
- Long-term closures: A solution to single-tracking?
- Metro policy for refunds after delays falls short, riders say
- PG planners propose bold new smart growth future
- Prince George's County struggles to get trails right
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger