New Haven Library Ives Squared | New Haven CT
“Ives Squared” is a 5,820 sf innovation commons created to introduce public library patrons to skills and community networks that will help them and the city thrive in the 21st century. The programming for the new center is based on research by the Institute of Museum & Library Services; its spatial narrative comes from Margaret Sullivan Studios, an interior design firm that specializes in the revitalization of libraries. The facility is a forward-looking addition to the offerings of Ives Memorial Library, the main branch of the New Haven, CT, free public library system. Considering where “Ives Squared” is located, its creation is an audacious move. Ives Memorial Library is a neo-Georgian edifice, designed by Cass Gilbert and completed in 1911, that sits on a prominent downtown site and happens to share the neighborhood with Yale University. Yale’s library system provides its own students and staff with prodigious learning resources. Ives Memorial Library, meanwhile, serves the remainder of the city’s demographically diverse population (of roughly 130,000). Responding to citizens’ needs, Ives—like other libraries nationwide—has become a vital community resource for computer and wi-fi access, children’s and adult education programs, job boards and skills training, as well as books, periodicals, and CDs. Like other urban libraries, it also serves as a safe and constructive haven for teenagers after school, seniors, and the (bookish) homeless. As in decades past, the library is a popular destination for young families with children. Not counting online use of its resources, Ives Memorial Library receives some 250,000 visitors a year. “Ives Squared,” equipped with cutting-edge technological tools, trainers, and entrepreneurial outreach, is now proudly dedicated to the betterment of these townspeople.
Create an open and inviting center that incorporates four functional areas: (1) a workshop conducive to interactive learning, making, collaboration, and experimentation using 21st-century technologies, including laser cutters, CNC carving machines, 3D printers, vinyl cutters, and computer programs for virtual reality gaming and graphic design, as well as crafting tools (sewing machines to light boxes); (2) a nonprofit and entrepreneurial resource center with books, white boards and tables; (3) a computer station for graphic design training; (4) a café with indoor and (seasonal) outdoor seating for meetings and networking.
The main design challenge of “Ives Squared” resulted from another audacious decision: to place the main space of “Ives Squared,” with its technological machinery, work tables, and computers (the Tinkerlab), as well as presentation screens and whiteboards (the Exchange) in what had historically been the front reading room. Indeed, the room’s large Palladian window received the only direct sunlight on the main floor of the landmark building. Most of the library’s functional spaces—stacks, reading rooms, reference desk, computer and meeting rooms--are now housed in a large, 4-story addition erected behind the original library in 1988-90. However, the architects (Hardy, Holtzman, Pfeiffer) also faithfully restored and renovated the original masonry structure of brick and marble. The library is still entered from the original marble stairway and the main hall holds the circulation desk, but with the card catalog long since removed the hall is chiefly a passageway—albeit a handsome one. While it was logical to bring some hum of activity to the street side of the library again, we could not disturb the original neoclassical ornamentation (including pilasters and intricate entablature).
The pilasters and entablature in the room were painted a dark terra cotta (a color we retained in one transom window leading into the stacks). We painted all of the trim and walls a crisp white to give it a contemporary feel while preserving the classical detailing. We kept the simple pendant lights (installed in 1988-90) and drew inspiration from the blues in the stained-glass lunette windows (installed as part of a city arts ordinance in 1990) to inject bold color into the space. The most playful strokes were reserved for the floors. In this open plan, a change in floor covering delineates the different task areas—the makerspace (or Tinkerlab) and the business resource center (the Exchange). The Tinkerlab’s washable Marmoleum floor is a street map of New Haven. The Switchboard (or information desk) and the business section are carpeted in a blue, grey, and beige “dreamscape” patterned wool carpet. Chairs and stools are light, modern and easily moved around for team work and different tasks.
The flooring color scheme transitions into a hallway carpet connecting Ives Squared to the bookstacks and into the café next door, where it becomes an abstract herringbone tile floor and the bold blue is repeated in the tiled wall behind the counter and in the seating. Once in the café area, which is not part of the original structure, the design becomes more contemporary, with string lights and pale walls. The previously underused terrace (a part of the 1988-90 addition) is accessed from the Café.
Overall design scheme:
To reinforce the fact that these new rooms are intended for all patrons (over the age of 18 for now), we made them accessible from several entryways in the main hall and the stacks. That these rooms are meant for active learning and interaction rather than quiet contemplation is signaled by the dynamic floor patterns, the light and movable furniture, and design details such as a sound muffling “phone booth” for making cell phone calls, art installations created in Ives Library workshops, and whiteboards on which patrons are invited to write and create.