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The Library of the Future

The Advanced Learning Library (ALL) in Wichita, Kansas is the city’s newest and largest public library.

Photo by Alan Blakely, courtesy of Rockfon
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Wichita Advanced Learning Library – Wichita, Kansas. Photo by Alan Blakely, courtesy of Rockfon

The Advanced Learning Library (ALL) in Wichita, Kansas is the city’s newest and largest public library, replacing the old downtown branch. “Open for all,” a play on its inclusive acronym, the project’s modern appearance and amenities welcome the community to congregate, collaborate, concentrate and contemplate.

The new 105,200-square-foot, two-story learning facility’s multifunctional environment meant selecting products to optimize each area’s purpose and performance within a unified design.

Designed by GLMV Architecture with significant input from the community, the new ALL replaced the smaller, less efficient, less accessible, former downtown branch.

The vision for the new facility was no less than to become the “library of the future.”

“The new building will enable us to do more in our work to ensure that our residents have equitable access to information,” said Cynthia Berner, director of libraries for the City of Wichita. “Expanded public computing services will enable us to enhance digital access and literacy for everyone in our community.”

Copper Metallic Aesthetic

Through the ALL’s main entrance, the Gateway Gallery serves as a comfortable lobby and display area within the Community Pavilion. Above, a skylight draws natural light into the interior. Looking up, library visitors also notice the distinctive, copper-colored, perforated metal ceiling panels.

Photo by Alan Blakely, courtesy of Rockfon

“The metal ceiling was chosen for the lobby area to harmonize the interior and exterior palettes,” explained GLMV Architecture’s interior designer, Christy Wendler, IIDA, NCIDQ. “The ceiling panel was also used on the vertical face of the atrium opening, which created an ideal transition.”

A custom “Copper Metallic” color was specified to complement the building’s exterior panels and other interior finishes. “Working through the custom order was painless,” added Wendler. Rockfon provided finished samples for the designer’s approval prior to manufacturing the metal ceiling panels and matching perimeter trim.

Perhaps a subconscious influence, the ceiling’s copper finish also is a similar shade to the spots on “Mo the Giraffe,” unofficial mascot of the Children’s Pavilion. A multi-purpose conference room also carries through the copper-color metal ceiling design.

In addition to the continuity of appearance, Rockfon’s metal ceiling tiles contribute to optimized acoustics for both those in the conference room and those mingling in the spacious lobby and Gateway Gallery.

High Absorption Acoustics

The ALL embodies modern cultural design with large open and flowing spaces, high ceilings and stately materials including stone, glass, wood and metal. Yet a high level of acoustic control still had to be implemented without negatively impacting the aesthetics.

Photo by Alan Blakely, courtesy of Rockfon

“Large, visually-impressive spaces can be very exclusive if the acoustics are not handled properly,” explained Rockfon’s acoustics specialist, Gary Madaras, Ph.D. “Elders with hearing impairments, people whose native language is not English and young children whose auditory cognition is not yet fully developed can have great difficulty understanding speech in noisy and reverberant environments. Even people with healthy hearing can feel fatigued and stressed after short periods of time.”

The acoustic plan to make the ALL acoustically accessible and comfortable for everyone was to perforate the extensive metal ceilings, which allows sound to pass through the metal and be absorbed by a fibrous mat laid on top of the metal.

On the ALL, Rockfon Planostile Snap-in metal panels also were specified with end-to-end quarter-inch-diameter circular perforations. Along with the acoustical pad, the ceiling panels offer a high-absorbing noise reduction coefficient of NRC 0.90.

According to Rockfon’s Optimized Acoustics design approach, the first step to optimal acoustics in any space is to assess the amount of sound absorption needed from the ceiling based on the likelihood of noise and the sensitivity of the occupants’ activities to noise. “In a modern public library, there can be high noise levels at the same time that many people need to concentrate,” continued Madaras. “In the case of the ALL, the ceilings had to provide the best level of sound absorption possible, an NRC of 0.90 or higher.”

This simple, but high-performance acoustic design approach was implemented in the large conference room, providing speech intelligibility during meetings and multi-media events, as well as in the Gateway Gallery and Community Pavilion lobby, providing acoustic comfort and preventing noise transmission into the more private areas.

The Future of Libraries

One of the most core values of the public library is equitable access to information. This was noted in the Wichita Public Library white paper, Libraries of the Future: Likely Roles and Implications for Facility Design.

Photo by Alan Blakely, courtesy of Rockfon

The Library’s white paper drew an important conclusion about the role of libraries in the community:

“As the roles and services change, one constant will remain. The success of the library of the future will remain measured, as always, by the institution’s ability to assure equality of opportunity and to contribute to the quality of life for all citizens.”

Wichita Public Library Foundation board member Mark Chamberlin stated, “For me, libraries are about connecting people – connecting them with information, connecting people with our history, connecting people to our community. All those connections are made with the simple intention of improving the lives of all of our citizens.”

May/June 2020 Digital Issue

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