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Carnegie's Legacy: Breaking out of a Brookline box

Sunday, March 02, 2003

By Patricia Lowry, Post-Gazette Architecture Critic

The Brookline library, Carnegie Library director Herb Elish believes, is ideally situated, in the heart of the neighborhood's commercial strip, with a bakery on one side and a barbershop on the other. The building, however, is less than ideal -- a 1 1/2-story 1950s box that was remodeled 13 years ago when it became a library, but, hemmed in by adjacent buildings, still lacks windows on both sides.

 
 
Illustration:
Planned renovations for the Carnegie Library's Brookline Branch

   
 

In May, construction will begin on its $1.7 million makeover into what promises to be a dynamic new library designed by Loysen and Associates of Point Breeze.

Although the facade design is still in flux, the building is likely to have a distinctive presence on the street, with a glass storefront inviting passers-by into an adult reading room that is expected to function as a sort of community living room -- "an active, social space," said architect Karen Loysen, where patrons can "read a newspaper, hang out, see and be seen." The existing mezzanine floor at the front of the building will be removed, creating a two-story space illuminated by clerestory light.

The rest of the first floor -- about two-thirds of it -- will be devoted to open stacks in the center, with various functions around the perimeter, including teen, study and computer areas.

"We've moved all our people functions to the areas that are [naturally] lighted," said Loysen, who's found smart solutions for bringing in that natural light.

Behind the row of five computer stations will be two walls -- a new, interior glass wall and the exterior brick one -- with the space between illuminated by a skylight. The slot also will bring natural light into the now-unused basement, which will become the children's area.

The basement also will house a meeting room that will do double-duty as a children's story hour space, with seating for 50, when the library reopens late this year.

The library's existing rear wall will come down and be replaced by a new glass wall, protected from the alley by an aluminum trellis with horizontal slats.

The new library is "not just about books," Loysen said. "It's about the dialogue you have with the librarian and finding more than books to satisfy your interest. It might be online, in a magazine, in a music collection somewhere else. It's a more multifaceted resource."

Two other modern branch libraries -- Woods Run, built in 1964, and Squirrel Hill, completed in 1972 -- also are slated for renovations. Design and construction schedules are still in development; the makeovers will not start any earlier than the fall.

"Woods Run is small and run-down," Elish said. "The building is OK, but the interior is just awful. The furniture is bad and the carpet is held together with industrial tape. It's largely a place where people come and take out material rather than spend a lot of time. We want to open up the facility so it looks more inviting."

While Regent Square's Rothschild Architects tackles that $719,000 renovation, Arthur Lubetz Associates of Oakland is working on the $3.1 million expansion of the Squirrel Hill library. Designs for both are not far enough along to release. "Squirrel Hill is the most heavily used branch library by far," Elish said. It's on prime real estate at the corner of Forbes and Murray avenues, the elbow of the L-shaped commercial district. But its second-floor location doesn't give it much visibility on the street.

Lubetz's design will eliminate the front and back terraces, extend the building in both directions and add an elevator entrance on Forbes Avenue.

"We can separate the spaces out for people to be doing different things; there will be quiet alcoves for reading," Elish said. "The ambience will be new and modern."

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