An architecture design challenge for University of Nebraska–Lincoln students is helping further a community debate on the future of Lincoln's downtown library.
This past spring semester architecture students developed design concepts for the library, reimagining what the new building could look like. The concepts were on display at the Bennett Martin Public Library but have now rotated to the Arch Gallery in Architecture Hall at UNL’s city campus. They will be on display until July 13th.
There have been many ideas and opinions regarding the future of Lincoln’s Bennett Martin Public Library, should the city relocate it to the old Pershing Center, renovate the current location, or a fresh start with a new building and location. This design opportunity and the on-going debate was too much to pass up for Associate Professor Steve Hardy. It was the perfect design research challenge for his spring ARCH 5/611 Design Studio.
The Library has been working on this project diligently for the last 3-4 years with various collaborators. The Clark Enersen architectural firm created the 100,000+ sq/ft programming document which the students used as a starting point for their project. Using the Library’s early concept, vision study and programming document as their foundation, the students spent the last semester researching and developing various concept designs and project scenarios. Some students created concepts that included adaptive reuse of the Pershing Center, while others proposed a new building recommending the demolition of the Pershing Center building.
“Given the size of the site and its maximum buildable volume, the notion of a site partner or another entity sharing the site such as a coffeehouse, became an important variable,” explained Steve Hardy. “Most students looked for creative ways to introduce mixed-use scenarios and synthesize a new type of future library based on a programmatic hybridization with the site partner. Students were passionate about the need for a new and updated library to operate as an active public space and were eager to explore expanded and new types of services.”
Community engagement and partnership has been the hallmark of the College’s design studios. This project was a huge collaborative effort with many partners including the Bennett Martin Public Library, the Library Board and Clark Enersen which provided engagement and feedback during the design process.
“It was a good experience for the library staff who participated, it helped to instill the value of good design, I believe it is a good exercise for the students, and it promoted the College within our community,” said Lowell Berg, AIA, Clark Enersen, senior principal & library board member.
These studio projects are a great learning tool for the students, but for many, they are much more than that.
“I think this is one thing UNL offers that other universities may lose sight of,” commented architecture student Luke Abkes. “Yes, we are studying how to design buildings that will go in our communities, but even more importantly we are designing the framework in which our communities have the capability to thrive. A project such as a library offers the potential to make a considerable difference because it levels the playing field between the more and less fortunate, offering an abundance of resources to all who enter.”
The College of Architecture invites the public to see these concepts while on display this month to further the conversation. A decision regarding the Pershing Center site is anticipated for this summer.