In the spring of 2006, a coalition of concerned parents approached the Capitol Hill Community Foundation in regards to the substandard conditions of public school libraries within the Capitol Hill School District. This group joined forces with the Washington Architectural Foundation and the School Libraries Project was born. Eight libraries [seven elementary schools and one middle school] were targeted for immediate upgrades. Seven architectural firms and a group of college students and professors from Catholic University were selected to work with the initial libraries to create schematic designs.
The Catholic University of America design collaborative [CUAdc] was paired with Stuart-Hobson Middle School at 410 E Street NE, Washington, DC. The pre-construction library was under-stocked, technologically out of date and was open to students for an average of one hour per day. The long, narrow space held metal book shelves that were inappropriately sized, being too tall for the average student. A handful of donated computers were in the space, but were not connected to the library resources and the internet. The design goal was simple: transform the library into a dynamic space that would inspire students to learn and explore.
The CUAdc team made the initial design decision to introduce a desert inspired atmosphere into this inner city school, seeking to inspire students through an exciting, enriching environment. The natural rock formations of the southwestern United States were carefully studied in an attempt to successfully engage them into this urban condition. Long concrete block walls were envisioned to become amorphic formations of shelves with books and displays. Computer terminals were designed to have similar form, but work specifically with middle school children. Extensive studies were conducted to allow the librarian and teachers to work in and monitor the space, while maintaining a cohesive design strategy.
In order to effectively introduce this new environment, the CUAdc team designed with the mindset of utilizing new technologies within the University to fabricate the shelves and furniture. A CNC [Computer Numerically Controlled] Milling Machine would be used to create all new library furniture. By doing this, the furniture could be custom to the space, the cost could be controlled and students within the CUAdc team could learn to use these new technologies. As the CUAdc team was formed with education at its core, the mission of the design team and the goals of the library worked in perfect tandem.
As design schemes developed, the CUAdc team met at length with parents, faculty and staff of the school seeking input and design critique. In addition to these pragmatic meetings, the CUAdc team spent a morning with art students from the school. These students offered their own suggestions for what the library should be, providing a direct insight to the end user. As a result of this experience, the design evolved further, allowing a more successful development of spaces.
Through this interaction of design and fabrication, not only does the library provide inspiration for its users, the library’s design and fabrication educated and enlightened the CUAdc students. The library’s image has been completely modified providing an exciting learning space that inspires and enlightens. By using insight from a wide variety of sources, a successful design and installation has evolved enriching the space and the student body as a whole.