Charles Library
A new library at Temple University

2013–2019

Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Interior Architecture

Introduction

Snøhetta’s design for the new Charles Library at Temple University, 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. The new 220,000-square-foot library more than doubles the amount of study spaces of its 1960s predecessor.

Technical details

Typologies
Education & Research, Library, Master Planning, Public Space
Status
Completed
Location
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Client

Temple University

Collaborators

Stantec

Size
220,000 sq ft
Scope
Design Architect, Design Landscape Architect
Certification

LEED Gold

The building’s solid base is clad in vertical sections of split-faced granite, referencing the materials of the surrounding campus. Grand wooden arched entrances cut into the stone volume and announce a welcoming entry point. 

These 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.

SUBHEAD SPACE

The library operates with a high-density automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS), affectionately termed the “BookBot.” This repository 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.