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In Omaha, the Library of the Future Can Do

By Kevin Wilcox

Do Space combines a high-tech digital library of the future with a 3-D printing workshop and an engaging play space to draw crowds.

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The team stripped away styling cues to effect the dramatic transformation from a Borders Bookstore to Do Space. © 2015 Dan Schwalm/HDR, courtesy of HDR Architecture, Inc.

February 23, 2016—At the corner of 72 nd and Dodge streets in the heart of Omaha a project that seeks to define the role of a public library in the era of digital books recently opened to a wellspring of community support. The library—known as Do Space—is a bright, open, inviting facility that combines an array of electronic devices that enable access to digital information with elements of a workshop and a play space.

Do Space occupies a former Borders bookstore left vacant for years in the aftermath of the chain's declaration of bankruptcy. In an ironic testament to how rapidly libraries are changing, one of the early challenges of converting the space was finding someone to accept a donation of the many bookshelves left behind by Borders—the new library didn't need them.

"A common misconception is [that] libraries are spaces that house books. But in reality, libraries are all about access to information," says Kevin Augustyn, associate AIA, an architectural designer for HDR, the architecture, engineering, and consulting firm based in Omaha that designed the project. "Designing the library of the future did prove to be a difficult challenge and we are still learning to this day—through the public's use of this project—what that library of the future will be." HDR provided both design and engineering services on the project, and Kiewit, also of Omaha, was the contractor. The Omaha office of the information technology consulting firm Five Nines designed the robust technological infrastructure, which includes dual high-capacity Internet access lines.

Libraries have been evolving over the last decade to accommodate the many new ways residents seeks and interact with information, and each other. For example, at Grand Valley State University, in western Michigan, the new student library was designed to be an open, inviting, and dynamic community resource, offering residents and students a place to learn from a variety of sources, engage their peers, and interact with their surroundings (read "Reinventing the Library" in Civil Engineering 's February 2015 issue.) The circular Chinatown branch of the Chicago library is meant to act as a hub of activity that connects the north and south ends of the community (read " Modern Library Reshaped for Site" on Civil Engineering online.) And the new central library that the City of Austin, Texas, is building near Lady Bird Lake incorporates several community spaces, including a sixth-floor reading garden with dramatic views of the city and a 300-seat, two-story event forum (read " Austin Building Library of the Future," also on Civil Engineering online).

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Computer screens replaced the bookshelves in this library of the future. © 2015 Dan Schwalm/HDR, courtesy of HDR Architecture, Inc.

In Omaha, the modern library offers a vibrant, open environment in which a bright, primary color palette contrasts with white ceilings, floors, and tables. Long, communal tables of computer screens are interspersed with relaxing lounge areas. The children's room has proven exceptionally popular, as is Do Space's 3-D printing lab.

The project was developed by Heritage Services, an Omaha civic organization that raises donations for public-use buildings in the city. Heritage Services formed a 501(C3) organization called Community Information Trust to operate the facility. They challenged HDR to imagine the future of libraries and design a space that provided access and education to all members of the public.

"The challenge was envisioning how people would use this space," Augustyn explains. "Many of the projects we design in our practice have a specific function and it's easy to imagine how those spaces are going to be used. If you think of a baseball stadium, a hospital, or a science lab, we know how those buildings are going to be used."

Teams of HDR employees spent about a year on periodic fact-finding missions to other communities in the United States in which civic leaders are seizing the opportunity to reimagine public libraries. Those teams returned convinced that it was crucial for the space to be open and flexible.

"Technology does evolve so rapidly, the space needs to be able to accommodate change," Augustyn says. "In architecture, it's about limiting the amount of walls that you put into a space. If you create a space that is open and inviting, then it can really cater to a number of different functions."

The Borders building proved to be ideal for the project in many key respects. The intersection at which it is sited is one of the highest-profile locations in the city, near a wealth of retail business and restaurants. The building is also, in essence, a two-story box. That offered the team the flexibility to minimize internal walls.

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A children’s room has been especially popular in the first months of operation. © 2015 Dan Schwalm/HDR, courtesy of HDR Architecture, Inc.

The challenge with the facade was to be able to reuse the existing structure while transforming the building's appearance. This was accomplished by removing the architectural detailing associated with Borders "to provide clarity of expression," Augustyn explains.

The project required a careful examination of the structural system of the building because occupancy loading was revised. Additionally, a modern, higher-capacity air handling unit was installed on the roof, a large video screen was added to an exterior wall, and a system of trusses and polycarbonate panels was installed over the entrance. "Retail buildings are designed very efficiently," Augustyn says. "There is not a lot of flex in terms of what you can do from a structural standpoint. We definitely had to be aware of its limitations."

The second story features concrete slabs supported by steel joist purlins spanning to wide-flange girders. The roof comprises a 1.5 in. metal roof deck supported by steel joists that also span to wide-flange girders. The lateral system of the existing building comprises four steel braced-frames distributed equally to the four perimeter walls, according to Cary Schroeder, a structural engineer in training with HDR.

"To limit modification to the roof structure, the new air-handling units were placed in the same locations as the existing units using retrofit curbs," Schroeder explained in written answers to questions posed by Civil Engineering online. "Due to the additional weight of the new units compared to the existing units, the steel roof joists were analyzed and strengthened to handle the altered loading."

The most significant structural engineering challenge involved filling in a large open staircase between the first and second floors to maximize space on the second floor, Schroeder said. "The required stair infill was accomplished using a 2 in., normal-weight concrete slab on 1.5 in. [deep] composite metal deck supported by wide-flange members," he said. "Analysis of the existing beams with the additional load from the stair infill was completed and new field connections to the existing beams were constructed."

Augustyn says working on the project was exciting because Do Space will provide access to technology to many people who can't afford it, coupled with a helpful staff to assist novices in navigating this new world of options. "Knowing that you have little kids coming in and interacting with this technology was exciting to me," he says. "I honestly wish that I had had access to this when I was a kid because I probably would have been there every week."



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