Dallas Local Architecture: Grauwyler Park Branch Library
In July 2018, Forbes ran a story titled, “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money”. Written by Panos Mourdoukoutas, an economics professor at LIU, the story argued for privatization of libraries under the pretense that private businesses such as Starbucks, Netflix, and Amazon offer citizens the same services that libraries do — space to study or work, media to watch, and books to read — all at a lower cost to the taxpayer.
Mourdoukoutas, a frequent contributor to Forbes, states that “there’s no shortage of places to hold community events” and that “technology has turned physical books into collector’s items, effectively eliminating the need for library borrowing services.” Limited to his economic point of view, Mourdoukoutas reduces the library to a place where services are obtained in exchange for taxpayer money.
In practice, libraries perform a pivotal role in their communities that is much more complex and unifying than simply exchanging capital for services. A library, in addition to being one of the few secular gathering places available, acts as a safe space for children outside of school, particularly in low to moderate income neighborhoods, and is preferable to encouraging youths to frequent shopping malls. Frequenting Starbucks for WiFi and study space encourages a coffee and spending habit that verges on dependence and every streaming service that we sign up for reduces our ability to choose what media is produced with market forces.
Mourdoukoutas misses the point entirely: a library stands as physical representation of the government’s commitment to the betterment of its citizens. Citizens, more than corporations, are the true asset of any community. No person should have to choose between putting food on the table and gaining knowledge. The structures we live in should give us the tools to thrive within our communities, regardless of net worth.
The Dallas city government shows that it understands the value of such a structure with its investment in the Grauwyler Park Branch Library, which serves the Love Field neighborhood of Dallas. Love Field, sharing the name of the nearby airport, is a moderate-to-low income community with a median income of $46,158, a neighborhood very indicative of the City of Dallas overall. Comprised mostly of single-story Craftsman-style homes with a median build age of 1966, the architecture that exists in Love Field leaves the community with a sense of dilapidation and disrepair. This is in direct contrast with nearby neighborhoods of Dallas such as Greenway Parks, which has a mean income of around $500,000 and a median income of $104,688 — a community which by nature has far more resources available to its residents.
Grauwyler Park Branch Library stands in opposition to these limitations. Designed by the Dallas-based architecture firm of Oglesby Greene and constructed in 2007, the library is the smallest of the Dallas Public Library’s locations at 12,500 s.f. but one of the most impactful. The overall goal of the project was to maximize the impact of a facility facing multiple constraints: setbacks on one side, a curving utility easement on another, and a city park on the third. The result is a welcoming and timeless space which belies its size and gives context to the park and community that it sits in.
The library is laid out with a gently sloping wood beam roof and floor-to-ceiling windows designed to let in natural light from all angles. The roof, which defines the space, is laid out with ten long span glue-laminated beams supported by posts and cable stayed underneath for stability, an eye catching design that adds warmth while showcasing the structural elements of the building. This structural choice nullifies load bearing walls and allows the windows and sightlines to wrap around the building, providing calming views of the nature outside. The warmth of the wood ceiling gives the space a welcoming lodge-like atmosphere, in comparison to the cold steel girders used in most long-span roofing. This is form meeting function: a library is space which by design should encourage people to come back and use again and again in the search of knowledge, and the physical beauty and warmth of Grauywler Park Branch Library does just that, in a stroke of genius from the firm of Oglesby & Greene.
The functional elements of the library are taken into consideration as well in the limited square footage of the library; all the back of house and administrative elements — restrooms, staff space, and check out/information desk — are located streetside; even a multipurpose room is included, an important space for events such as children’s movie night or arts & crafts. If there were any concern about the center of the building not receiving light, a clerestory skylight enlightens the check-out desk, separating the area with vertical headspace and perfectly zoning the area from the stacks and study areas. The staff’s concerns are taken into consideration; the librarian working the checkout desk can survey the entrance as well. The stacks, too, are chosen with thought; at 5 feet tall, they are short enough for most adults to see over, which both opens up the space visually and makes it easy to find children. This also drastically minimizes the sensation of being “lost in the stacks” which can discourage children from exploring in search of new literature.
All in all, libraries are not an extraneous drain of taxpayer money that should be privatized, as Mordoukoutas would argue. Libraries are the government’s investment in its people, the biggest resource it has and one that American municipalities often pass by the wayside in favor of corporate incentives or privatized utilities.The Grauwyler Park Branch Library is a building that fits those ideals, and an municipal decision that more local governments should seek to emulate.