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3Nov/180

A Love Affair with the White Tanks Library

Going analog for my next read, I re-discovered what has to be one of the best public buildings in the state of Arizona; the White Tanks Library.

I recently finished a book on my Kindle. Sensitive to my near-constant cycle of reading/buying/reading/buying, and maybe just looking for a different experience for a minute, I went to the library for my next read instead. It is a good library. Because of the layout, I was able to choose quickly. I always seem to choose quickly.

When you first enter the  White Tanks Library, there are a couple of display shelves featuring new editions. I always start here. I want to see what’s new, the latest best-selling fiction, new ideas in the non-fiction space. Within a minute, I had selected two books and checked out. Not in a hurry to head hone, I took a few minutes to ponder the building I was in and was amazed at how much of a gift this place is to those of us lucky enough to enjoy it.

Sitting on an isolated lot at the very edge of a county park, the White Tanks Library is a marvelous building to look at. Interestingly shaped, modern, clad in a slightly green pebbled treatment, with winding entry walks and a shaded courtyard just before the main doors, it is a compliment to desert that surrounds it.

The broad, pressed-earth and gravel walkways, the pebble-embedded concrete walls, the colored cladding and awnings, all reflect the natural surroundings. The parking spaces and walkways intertwine with protected patches of unchanged desert. As a visitor, you feel like you are walking into something that grew up out of the landscape, not something that was built on top of it. Outside the building, you'll find a Desert Tortoise enclosure as well as an outdoor amphitheater, and a trail entrance into the county-maintained park itself.

Inside, the building is shaped like a Japanese folding fan, with a broad curved rear wall that faces the White Tanks Park and a narrow entryway at the front. To protect the line of that back wall, all the busy space of the building is at front; meeting rooms, the bookstore, bathrooms, activity rooms, staff offices, as well as an amazing nature center with displays of reptiles and snakes found in the park. Even the sorting center is tucked into the front of the building.

Extending out from the library's infrastructure are working spaces; librarian’s desks, the children’s apparatus, the private workrooms for patrons, computer desks, etc.

The next concentric ring to this highly-functional building are the stacks. Fanned across the heart of main library chamber, and organized in bookstore categorization (which is hard to get used to for a Dewey-trained library nerd like me), shelving and display units filled with books, periodicals, and digital media follow the curve of the room.

The real treat to the White Tanks Library though is the back wall. A brilliant decision that honors the park adjacent to the library. The back wall is one, long, panoramic, curved window. No matter where you stand or sit in the library, you have a view into the park.

The stacks end five feet from the windows and nothing else is allowed to get in the way of the expansive view. It is like an IMAX theater experience; a surround-sound view of the thriving Sonoran Desert landscape, backed by the copper-colored White Tank Mountains. The building is so ideally situated that the terrain curves up and away from the view, like it’s really a diorama, or a carefully curated display like the famous Neanderthal man exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The placement is such that from inside the library, almost no distracting elements of the park (roads, trails, or shelters) are in the view.

The windows perfectly frame a Western view. That means sunsets, which can be spectacular in the desert even on the most mundane of days.

The White Tanks Library was designed by Arizona-based DWL Architects & Planners and is a living testament to their ability to imagine a building that honors its surroundings, is designed to have minimal environmental impact, and is practical enough to be constructed in a challenging environment.

If you ever get the chance, I encourage you to pay a visit to the White Tanks Library. If you're a lover of libraries, of nature, or of architecture, I promise you'll be impressed.

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