Snap Judgment: Bellevue Is D.C.’s Best New Library Yet

New library design creates dozens of spaces for different kinds of activities

By Lydia DePillis - Housing Complex
|  Tuesday, Jun 26, 2012  |  Updated 11:38 AM EDT
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Snap Judgment: DC’s Best New Library

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A few months ago, we took a look at Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper's latest architectural showpiece -- the Bellevue/Washington Highlands/William O. Lockridge Library, depending on whom you ask -- while it was under construction. It's finally finished, and I swung by over the weekend to see how it felt.

Now, the David Adjaye-designed building (115 Atlantic St. SW) isn't much to look at, from the outside. The wooden "fins" on a rough gray stucco-like surface, and the way protruding rooms sit awkwardly on irregular plinths, make it feel slightly unfinished.

In this neighborhood of the purely conventional, it resembles nothing more than a UFO that's paused for a moment on the side of a hill.

The interior, however, is something special.

An intricately composed Rubik's Cube of glass and concrete, it creates dozens of spaces for different kinds of activities, separated from each other with varying degrees of opacity and yet still loosely bound together with a central light well. Clear exterior walls on the main floors bring the surrounding neighborhood in, making inhabitants feel as if they're suspended in the air, while the bulbous breakout rooms provide a greater sense of enclosure.

The three levels also allow more raucous activity to settle to the more community-centered ground floor -- Saturday was open house day, with kids racing around yelling -- while adult activities can take place on in relatively tranquil top-floor study areas.

The library may take some getting used to for some folks accustomed to the more traditional open floor plan. Critics will also carp that it's extravagantly complex, in a system that can't even keep buildings open on Sundays. Once you learn how it's put together, though, it becomes as useful as it is beautiful, and a great to an area that's not attracted much attention. (DCMud has a more complete photo set here).

My one beef is the choice of furniture. These chairs are murder.

Snap Judgment: Bellevue is D.C.-s Best New Library Yet was originally published by Washington City Paper on June 25, 2012.

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