The University of Arkansas desired a readily constructible and financially cost-effective Library Annex. Located in the Art and Design District expansion of campus, the existing structures fall under industrial warehouse typologies. Early into the project, however, it became apparent that the site space restrictions prohibited the deployment of typical steel and tilt-up construction.
Alternatively, the Design Team explored a mass-timber solution. Cross-Laminated Timber panels for roofs, walls and floors and glulam timbers for moment frames, columns and beams provided the strength, rigidity, stability and pre-fabrication desired. The CLT and glulam systems sped up the construction and delivery of the building, with materials arriving on-site ready to be assembled, saving time and money with an accurate building process resulting in little job site waste.
With solid timber being natural, warm and inviting, the Design Team opted to keep all of the wood exposed on the interior, enriching an otherwise mundane work environment for the Library Staff. Each of the day-to-day front-of-house work areas, whether they be the Large Storage Room for maps, microforms and 3D physical objects, the Staff Work Room for order processing and collections digitization, the Preservation Room for collections maintenance, the Quarantine Room for new acquisitions inspection and treatment or the Kitchenette, all have exposed CLT walls and ceilings that enrich and enliven the work environment. The back-of-house high-density storage room is a large, single volume, windowless space necessary to house 1.8 million volumes of circulating and special collection library material as well as works of art. The enormity of this collection and the shelving units that contain them are similarly embraced with the warmth of wood providing a natural backdrop and a humanizing scale to this otherwise massively repetitive space. The nature of the wood also brightens up the room, defying the lack of natural light penetration in and views out to the exterior.
Fully exposing the wood on the interior of the project resulted in locating the building’s insulating layers on the exterior, requiring that the mass-timber structure be alternately sheathed. With the desire to elevate the typical warehouse typology, the Design Team developed a simple massing strategy of a front-of-house rectangular volume that responds to the scale of the surrounding buildings attached as an appendage to the larger book-box volume, both supporting the expression of a modern architectural style. As a response to the existing building context, the front-of-house volume is clad in ribbed metal panels. Further, with the project location being prone to tornadoes, the Design Team opted to clad the larger, high-density storage volume in both a durable and cost-effective, locally sourced stone-filled gabion basket base wall and a heavily-charred wood upper shroud that not only could be easily repaired/replaced due to damage but also provided a fire retardant and rot, insect and decay resistant facade. Both materials inherently create a dynamic façade composed of unique textures and a variety of natural colors.
These design solutions elevate a typical warehouse workspace and provide the Library Staff with a uniquely warm and welcoming work environment while providing the University with a aesthetically uncommon building that far exceeds their initial expectations of a warehouse storage facility.