By David Jen
A new library in Columbia, Maryland, will strengthen the planned community’s downtown while bringing together nature and public space in a modern design.
London-based Heatherwick Studio revealed in March renderings for the new Lakefront Library that showcase broad, glass walls tucked within overlapping, living terraces that will provide visitors views of nearby Lake Kittamaqundi and its surrounding park space.
“The building itself appears as if lifting from the surrounding landscape with cascading planted staircases weaving across the facade to reveal the open, double-story atrium where the county plans to host a program of public events,” writes Heatherwick in press material.
In addition to the collections of the Howard County Library System, the 100,000 sq ft structure will provide spaces for classes and initiatives for project literacy, workforce development, and equity, according to press material provided by Howard County.
While a 2016 proposal originally envisioned a joint project that included the library and a 240-unit affordable housing project on the same site in Columbia’s Merriweather District, the county council and other stakeholders have since decided to decouple the two, moving the library to the lakefront and leaving the housing in Merriweather.
Besides the new site’s lake and downtown proximity, “the relocation of the library to the lakefront site also frees the Merriweather site to be developed by the Howard County Housing Commission with a mixed income project as envisioned by the Downtown Columbia Plan, providing for more affordable housing, sooner,” writes the website for the Howard County Library System.
Texas-based Howard Hughes Corp., which develops and manages planned communities in Texas, Hawaii, New York, Nevada, and Arizona in addition to Maryland, owns the project site and plans to exchange it and the Merriweather site for the existing site of the Howard County Library System’s Central Branch, which has been slated for demolition since 2010.
While the Howard Hughes Corp., founded in 2010, traces its lineage to famed aviator and aircraft designer Howard Hughes, Howard County is named after John Eager Howard, the fifth governor of Maryland. And neither bears a relation to British urban planner Ebenezer Howard, who founded the garden city movement in the late 19th century.
Ebenezer Howard, in response to overcrowding encouraged by the industrial revolution, envisioned a city planning movement focused on “redistributing the population in a spontaneous and healthy manner,” according to his 1898 book, Garden Cities of To-morrow.
His ideas were later taken up by James Rouse, who founded the Rouse Co., which began the community of Columbia in 1967. Rouse’s Columbia strategy began with a solid economic base of businesses and industries that then supported residential neighborhoods matched in rents and home prices with the incomes provided by Columbia’s business sector. The community is organized around self-contained villages, which currently number 10.
Money magazine ranked Columbia the sixth-most desirable community in the nation in 2022.
Heatherwick expects library construction to begin in 2024, with the opening coming in 2027.
This article is published by Civil Engineering Online.