Design committee has high praise for new Temple library

“Sophisticated poetry.”

That’s what Cecil Baker, the bard of Philadelphia’s Civic Design Review Committee, had to say about the design of Temple University’s new library.

“Where have you been?” he asked Margaret Carney, the university architect, just an hour after giving a somber send-off to the developers who are planning to tear down the vacant Mt. Sinai hospital in South Philadelphia and replace it with townhomes.

“I see your project and I get filled with hope,” he said.

The new library is a four-story, 215,000-square-foot building at 13th Street and Pollet Walk, in the heart of Temple’s main campus. It was presented to the CDR Committee on Tuesday for information only, and will have to be presented again when Temple seeks approval to amend its master plan.

The building, designed by Snøhetta architects, has two big eyes, like those of a fish, facing southeast and southwest. Students standing at either entrance will be able to see clear through the building. There’s also a third entrance on Liacouras Walk, which runs north-south between Broad and 13th streets. The library will be surrounded by terraces and benches, and will have 130 bicycle parking spaces. It will replace Barton Hall, which is currently being demolished.

Carney said the building is meant to be inviting and to reinforce the core of Temple’s campus.

“There are moments of beauty,” Carney told the committee, “but there are a lot of places where the campus does not feel particularly safe or welcoming.”

When the new library is complete, more than two million books will be taken out of the old Paley Library, moved across the street, and stored in tight stacks that will be accessible only by a robot. On an upper floor, 200,000 books will be displayed in traditional stacks, according to Carney.

“When students search for a book, it will be similar to the search engines for Amazon or any products that you buy online, where you will scan through what would be a row of books, let’s say, and pick the one you want, and pick three more that you didn’t know about but you happened upon them as you were scrolling through,” she told PlanPhilly after the meeting. “I think people are learning to search that way. … I think there’s a familiarity, already, that people don’t even know they have, with the system that’s going in.”

Under a previous administration, Temple had planned to build its new library on Broad Street as a more public “living room” for North Philadelphia. But those plans were changed after Neil Theobald took over the presidency of the university and Joe Lucia became the Dean of Libraries. A new master plan released last year calls for the demolition of a number of older buildings and an influx of green space to the center of the campus.

“I have to admit I was skeptical at first,” said Carney. “I loved the idea of the library on Broad Street, but once we started working with it and I saw that we had the opportunity to create the green space and the library and that academic core, it was brilliant.”

Other Committee members praised the project as well. Anne Fadullon said it was nice to see Temple transcending its image as the “poor stepchild” among Philadelphia universities. At some point during the fall, the Planning Commission will need to approve Temple’s master-plan amendments, and the CDR Committee will review and comment on the project again at that time.

Carney, who is teaching a course this semester about the evolution of Temple’s campus, said the new robotic library will take up about 1/9 of the space a traditional library would use.

“We came to the conclusion that we would be much smarter, from a financial standpoint, to get the robot,” she said. “Have the books in the building where students can get them quickly and researchers can access a book within minutes, as if they were on a shelf.”

Watch full video of hearing below.

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