Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library

Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library in Washington, D.C. by Davis Brody Bond

Photographs are by Paúl Rivera - archphoto.

In many US cities, the public library's main building is the focus of attention to outsiders and visitors. Such is the case in New York City, Chicago, and Seattle, with their old, new, and newer downtown libraries. But for residents, the people that actually use the libraries, the branch or neighborhood libraries are more important. In these and other cities the branch libraries -- long the domain of interior renovations for older facilities -- have in recent decades been afforded a similar attention as the main libraries in terms of design. Freestanding libraries outside of downtowns now give neighborhood libraries a strong civic presence.

Davis Brody Bond has completed two such neighborhood libraries recently, both in Washington, DC for their library Building Program: the Benning Neighborhood Library and the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library, featured here. Located in DC's Shaw neighborhood, near Howard University, the library's site is a narrow triangular parcel, lending the building a visual prominence. The architects responded to the site by placing a plaza at the tip, which provides access to the main entry.

Inside the 22,800 sf (2,100 sm) building the library's function are on three floors: In the lower level are community spaces and a multi-purpose room; the ground floor includes new books, computer stations, the children's library, and the main staff area; upstairs are most of the adult and young adult collections,a large reading room, and study rooms. This separation follows a fairly common strategy in libraries today, where the noisier public areas occupy the space near the entry and the quieter areas are located above and/or below.

The reading room upstairs is located adjacent to an expansive south-facing glass wall on a busy thoroughfare. Excessive sunlight and noise are mediated by a perforated corrugated metal screen projected a few feet in front of the glass wall. The remaining facades are clad in translucent insulated panels with some windows integrated into them. Overall the appearance is such that the building expresses its internal functions, reflecting the complex mix of uses in today's library, so much more than just a container for books.