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Geometric Library Breaks Ground at Temple University

By Catherine A. Cardno, Ph.D.

Temple University has broken ground on its new main library, a geometric design that melds stone, glass, and timber into a one-of-a-kind design.

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The new main library at Temple University in Philadelphia will be a sleek, four-story, geometric structure that marries stone, glass, and timber in a one-of-a-kind design. Snøhetta/Stantec, a joint venture

March 1, 2016—New buildings on university campuses offer some of the best opportunities to make a bold architectural statement. Designs that offer unexpected materials and curves yet tie into existing traditional and contextual elements can create a popular campus building that is both immediately recognizable but complementary of its campus surroundings. This is certainly true of Temple University's new library, slated to open in time for the fall 2018 term. The four-story, sleek geometric design was created by a joint venture comprising the Oslo, Norway-based integrated design practice Snøhetta and the Philadelphia office of Stantec, a North American architecture, engineering, and design services firm.

With a one-of-a-kind design that marries stone, glass, and timber in unexpected curves and angles, the library will become an immediately identifiable visual marker for the university, as was the case with Yale University's curvy, transparent school of management building, and the iconic new faculty building at the University of Sheffield. (Read " Yale Opens BIM-Designed, Transparent Campus Building," and " Crystalline Academic Structure Unites Engineering Disciplines," on Civil Engineering online.)

The materials used in Temple University's new library will highlight the unique geometric aspects of the building. "[The design] is reminiscent of some of the older buildings on campus that have the traditional stone facade, so it's very contextual," says Scott Sullivan, AIA, LEED AP, the principal in charge of the project for Stantec, which is serving as the architect of record for the project. Deep, curved timber canopies will provide overhangs for the library's entrances, offering one of the most unexpected and memorable elements of the building's exterior lines. The timber finishes will extend to the building's interiors, curving from the three-story high ceiling to form an enormous wooden structure in the main lobby. Arched glass curtain walls at the ground level and upper-level glass curtain walls will enable the library's interiors to be lit by sunlight as much as possible.

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Deep, curved timber canopies will provide overhangs for the library’s entrances. The timber finishes will extend into the building’s interiors, curving downward from the three-story-high ceiling to form an enormous wooden structure in the main lobby. Snøhetta/Stantec, a joint venture

Beyond the geometry of the library lies even more intriguing design elements, including sustainable design components that include vegetation that covers 85 percent of the roof; an on-site stormwater management system that will captures almost all of the 2.5-acre site's expected stormwater before gradually releasing it underground; and a 50 m tall, glass-encased robotic book-retrieval system.

The building is primarily cast-in-place concrete construction, according to SawTeen See, P.E., Dist.M.ASCE, the partner in charge of the structural engineering on the project for the New York City office of Leslie E. Robertson Associates, RLLP, which is serving as the structural engineering firm on the project. See wrote in response to questions posed by Civil Engineering online. For much of the building, voided slab construction—concrete flat slabs with spherical void formers—will be used to create relatively lightweight, architecturally exposed, flat soffits.

The building's exposed concrete soffits and columns, long-span overhangs, large open spaces, and green roof all led to a unique combination of structural systems that supplement the cast-in-place concrete. "Due to the unique architectural shape of the building, some regions cantilever as much as 45 ft; here steel trusses and steel framing are used," See explained. The trusses will be one story tall and will cantilever 45 ft beyond the building footprint, requiring back spans of 20 to 25 ft that will be tied down with sloping columns. "[This] series of sloping concrete columns and arch-like concrete walls [will] span as much as 95 ft to achieve the monumental open spaces in the building," See explained.

"[Because] the back-spans are tied down with sloping columns, the resultant additional loads need to transfer through the adjacent voided floor slabs," See explained. The building will contain about 120 columns, 50 of which will transfer loads in various ways—either via deep transfer girders, by sloping, or by using long-span walls shaped as arches. "In a project where more than 40 percent of the load is transferred in a wide variety of ways, the challenge was to provide a cost-effective structure," See noted.

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The arches formed on either side of the building by the timber canopies will highlight the building’s glass entrances. The site is located at the intersection of two major pedestrian walkways on the campus, and is adjacent to a planned quadrangle. Snøhetta/Stantec, a joint venture

A portion of the loading that will need to be transferred includes the weight created by vegetation, which will cover 85 percent of the building's rooftop. The vegetated roof will reduce both stormwater runoff and heat transfer between the building and the air around it, keeping the building cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, according to Kristin Shiffert, RA, LEED AP BD+C, an architect at the Philadelphia office of Stantec, who wrote in response to questions posed by Civil Engineering online. The building's perimeter walls will also contain a high-performance glazing system to reduce heat transfer.

"The full green roof has a nice synergistic quality," Sullivan adds. It will provide an "ample R-value …and it's just a wonderful visual aesthetic." A fourth-floor terrace and other areas of the building will provide views of the roof.

The library will be located in a highly regulated area in which the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) requires significantly reduced stormwater inflow into the city's combined storm and sanitary sewer network, according to Deborah Nemiroff, P.E., M.ASCE, a civil engineer for the Malvern, Pennsylvania-based Hunt Engineering Company, which served as the civil engineering firm for the project. Nemiroff wrote in response to questions posed by Civil Engineering online.

"For this particular site the maximum release as set by PWD was only 0.35 cfs/acre for the 1-year through 10-year design storm events," Nemiroff said. "For this 2.5-acre site that translated to a maximum discharge rate of a mere 0.87 cfs in a 10-year storm event—this meant that virtually every drop of runoff needed to be captured and managed, and almost no bypass was tolerable."

Complicating matters was the large building footprint of 1.25 acres—50 percent of the total site—as well as underlying soil conditions on a portion of the remaining site that made infiltration of stormwater infeasible, and an existing underground utility tunnel that had to be maintained. Nemiroff explained that stormwater management needed to incorporate a number of elements in addition to the vegetated roof and its bioretention basins. These will include the use of pervious pavers on the site; subsurface infiltration basins with a combined footprint of nearly 10,000 sq ft and a static storage capability of more than 12 in. in depth; and the planting of an additional 53 trees on the site.

This combination of systems will meet the PWD release rate requirements and provides runoff peak rate control for the 25-year through 100-year design storms, according to Nemiroff.

The site is located at the intersection of two major pedestrian walkways on the campus and is adjacent to a planned quadrangle. As the new main library for the campus, the building will house the bulk of the university's collection of more than 2 million volumes yet also offer public spaces and an event hall for both students and the surrounding community, according to material on Snøhetta's website. Inspired by the historic academies of Greek antiquity, the architects have flipped the design of the traditional library so that its function as a social space for exchanging ideas is of primary importance and the actual storage of written texts is secondary. This follows a growing trend in library design throughout the United States (read " Modern Library Reshaped for Site" and " Austin Building Library of the Future," on Civil Engineering online). 

The university's volumes will be fully accessible, but the required footprint for their storage has been significantly shrunk through the use of an automated-retrieval storage system. Dubbed "The Vault," the high-density storage system will be 50 ft tall—almost three stories in height—and fronted with a glass wall. The floor slab for the system will be founded 20 ft belowground, the lowest level consisting of pressure slabs designed for hydrostatic uplift, according to See.

"You will be able to actually see the robots moving back and forth and selecting the books," Sullivan says. "It's significantly less square footage than traditional, 'browseable' stacks, and that provides more space for the students as study space, and for group learning."

While there is a higher front-end cost to installing such a system, the reduced footprint and economical operational cost significantly reduces the cost of book storage over the lifecycle of the library, Sullivan notes.

Energy will be conserved by the mechanical systems, which will be provided by a hydronic in-slab heating and cooling distribution system. This system will provide ambient temperature to the occupied zones up to 8 ft above the level of the floor, while reducing the heating and cooling of unoccupied areas of the building, according to Shiffert. "The hydronic systems allow for the use of displacement-ventilation air delivery, which reduces the amount of air systems required in the occupied zones," she noted. "That mixes and creates a tempered space. And by doing that, it reduces the amount of air that we're delivering through the building, which then reduces the fan power, which is very energy efficient. In total, we expect to see a 26 percent energy savings compared to a baseline library," Shiffert says.

Upon its completion, the library is expected to earn a gold level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. Work has already begun on the drilled-in caissons on which the library will be founded. 


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