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The Charles E. Young Research Library, seated at the northern edge of a bustling UCLA campus, is considered by many to be a classic piece of Mid-Century Modern architecture, and a prime example of the innovative work done by A. Quincy Jones—himself a master of modernism and the dean of USC’s School of Architecture from 1951 to 1967.
The library has been serving graduate students and faculty in the humanities and social sciences since first opening in 1964, and it can be said that the building’s concrete skeleton, dark glass windows and deep floorplate reflect the weight and significance of the research happening inside.
Unfortunately, the interiors of the building reminded patrons of a different institution.
“It was a very tired and old space, and a lot of students had dubbed it ‘DMV-like.’ It was dark, dreary and had no real clear wayfinding,” says Angela Kunz, project manager with Perkins+Will, the global interdisciplinary firm tapped by UCLA in 2007 to reimagine the building’s first floor and lower level.
Tasked with pre-design, programming and design services for the library’s common areas (the traditional book stacks on the upper floors were not touched), the team from Perkins+Will began meeting with different constituent groups to get a sense of what they would like to see in the new space. But the main push for a wholesale transformation of the building’s common areas came from UCLA University Librarian Gary Strong and Deputy University Librarian Susan Parker, both of whom understood the importance of introducing technology and collaborative thinking to the world of academic research.
“This was a chance to bring the library into the modern era through technology and new approaches to socialization, to the position of the library becoming a center for student activity,” says Nick Seierup, design principal on the project.
The design team also looked for ways to open up the feel of the building, without overstepping its history. “We wanted to be respectful of the architecture, because it is a legacy piece from a well-known master, but to integrate new approaches to materiality, communication and the integration of technology that would transform it in a sparkling way,” Kunz explains.
The redesign eventually came to focus on three central themes: journey, discovery and collaboration. The theme of journey is best exemplified in the form of the street, a wide-open space that moves directly through the middle of the main floor, and provides easy access to a variety of experiences and informational opportunities, including:
- The adjacent Laboratory for Digital Cultural Heritage, equipped with
a large-screen projector and specialized workstations
- A spacious, technology-equipped conference room, which has already
accommodated conferences, film screenings and large group meetings
- An expansive, glass-enclosed reading room for quiet work
- The new tech-heavy research commons
- A gallery featuring a range of library exhibits, based on collections which
had been previously buried deep in the building and difficult to access
The journey itself has also been made much easier with a number of customized communication and wayfinding elements. Because so much of our communication now happens in a digital space, Perkins+Will Branded Environments helped create a new website for patrons that explains how the library can support their research efforts, and provides convenient tools to facilitate the research process. Bold graphics have also been applied to glass surfaces and walls throughout the space to help patrons identify zones and move efficiently through the building.
The widespread use of glass also helps light the space (although the size of the floorplate makes it a tall order) and creates a more appealing environment. A series of glass-fronted group study rooms run around the perimeter of the building, inviting students to socialize and network.
“In some ways it’s not revolutionary—we wanted to put the act of students doing research out on display, and not behind closed walls,” says Seierup. “You can immediately see if it’s available, you can see if a friend is in there—that sort of social aspect of study becomes a major part of the attraction to the library.”
“It’s almost a celebration of that act,” adds Eileen Jones, principal and national discipline leader for Perkins+Will Branded Environments. “It’s not something that you have to go hide in the corner to do. We should be celebrating knowledge creation.”
The library’s biggest celebration of that act can be seen in its new research commons. Featuring 22 technology-enabled “pods” capable of accommodating up to 10 users, the area has been built specifically to encourage interdisciplinary
collaboration and discovery through serendipity. Each pod is equipped with Steelcase’s media:scape platform, allowing students and faculty to share content on laptops and other devices on large LCD monitors. Collaborative furniture from the media:scape line facilitates focused group work, but also encourages people to mix and mingle between pods.
According to Kunz, the new space has been well-received by UCLA’s academic community. The integration of technology has made it especially popular among students, and faculty members are using the commons to teach small classes. “It’s usually standing room only when you go in there, and it’s really quite amazing to see the transformation,” she says.
Thanks to the university’s emphasis on sustainability—as of 2009, all new buildings and major retrofits at UCLA target LEED Silver certification or higher—the Young Research Library is also a healthier, greener place to study. Interior renovations are expected to achieve LEED Gold certification due to the use of efficient plumbing and lighting products, locally manufactured building
materials and low-emitting products. The design team was able to reduce indoor water usage 53 percent below EPA standards, and lighting power usage 36 percent below California’s Title 24 standard.
Taken as a whole, the library’s reinvigorated spirit illustrates the transformative power of design. Students and staff continue to utilize the facility in record numbers—more than 195,000 people visited the library in the fall quarter of 2011, more than double the year before—while outside designers and administrators visit to see the change for themselves.
Never one for laurel-resting, Strong continues to dream up new ideas for incorporating collaborative thinking and technologies into UCLA’s library system—but he also feels confident about the new and improved positioning of the Young Research Library as it works to support the next generation of academic research.
“We developed these new spaces to support pedagogy and research both now and into the future,” he says. “Academic research libraries are no longer defined by their physical collections, and this redesign reshapes our collection access, services and facilities to support our users throughout their academic and professional careers.”
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UCLA Charles E. Young
280 Charles E. Young Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90095
617 West Seventh Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017
senior interior designer
Vajra Hodges, arch II
Andrea Stalker, arch II
Lisa Coghlan Dolan,
m/e/p engineer/lighting consultant
John A. Martin& Associates
custom furniture design
Paul Turang Photography