The new Charles Library at Temple University has opened its doors for the start of the Fall 2019 semester. Sited at the intersection of two major pedestrian pathways, Polett Walk and Liacouras Walk, and at the nexus of Temple’s Main Campus, Charles Library anchors a new social and academic heart for the university’s diverse student body of over 39,000.
Woven into the fabric of North Philadelphia, the building sits just one block off of Broad Street, the connecting artery to the city. Within its dynamic urban context, Snøhetta’s design, developed in collaboration with Stantec, reinterprets the traditional typology of the research library as a repository for books, integrating the building with a diversity of collaborative and social learning spaces. And in offering more than double the amount of study spaces than its 1960s predecessor, Paley Library, the 220,000-square-foot Library anticipates welcoming over 5 million annual visitors.
The building’s solid base is clad in vertical sections of split-faced granite, referencing the materials of the surrounding campus context. Grand wooden arched entrances cut into the stone volume and announce a welcoming point of entry.
The soaring arches continue into the building, forming a dramatic 3-story domed atrium lobby. Within the central atrium is a 24/7 zone, as well as computing workspaces available to Philadelphia residents. The building’s arched entries and expansive plazas extend a welcoming invitation to all visitors, and while its unusual geometry expresses a distinct identity, its massing is carefully attuned to the scale and materials of its neighbors.
The lobby’s domed atrium offers views to every corner of the building, serving as a wayfinding anchor and placing the user at the center of the library’s activity. An oculus carved into the expansive cedar-clad dome allows light to pour into the lobby from the uppermost floor, connecting the terminus of the library back to its beginning.
The steel-clad main stair is immediately visible from the entry as it winds up to the highest level of the building, inviting people to climb upwards. As people move through the building, this visual and physical connectivity allows them to maintain their bearings and encourages usage of all of the building’s resources.
Access to the library collection is stored primarily in the high-density automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS), affectionately termed the ‘BookBot.’ At fifty-seven feet tall, it spans three levels of the building and currently stores 1.5 million volumes with a capacity of nearly 2 million, allowing holdings previously housed in off-site deep storage to be relocated on-site. By drastically reducing the space required for book storage while also expanding access to the Library’s collection, the BookBot enables increased space for collaborative learning, academic resources, and individual study space.
The library’s design houses multiple partner programs and academic resources under a shared roof, while responding to the demonstrated need for increased seating. Anchoring the second and third floors are the Student Success Center, which offers writing and tutoring support; the Loretta C. Duckworth Scholars Studio, with access to digital fabrication and immersive technologies; and Temple University Press.
While the library offers a uniquely diverse space program tailored to the emerging needs of contemporary students, it also offers the focused research experience of traditional academic libraries. The serene, sun-filled fourth floor encourages visitors to meander through the stacks of the library’s browsable collection. Roughly 200,000 volumes anchor the center of the room, while more private study spaces line its perimeter.
Glazed on all four sides with glass, with views out to the lushly planted green roof, the fourth floor offers an unexpected retreat that feels embedded in nature.
Covering over 70 percent of the building’s roof surface, the 47,300 square-foot green roof is one of the largest in Pennsylvania and also plays a key role in the site’s stormwater management system.
Conceived as an amplified meadow landscape, ornamental grasses and herbaceous perennials form the foundation of these reading gardens, through which drifts of curated flowering species and bulbs emerge punctuating color and interest throughout the year. The roof gardens, composed of upwards of 15 different species, provide rich urban habitat for pollinators and a calming visual foreground to the views of the campus and city beyond from the interior of the library.