Remarks, November 19, 2004
Alexander Lamis AIA, Partner, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, New York, NY
The construction of a library is always a cause for hope. When a community decides to build and renovate its public library, it commits to the future. It endorses the idea that everyone should be given the opportunity to continue to learn throughout his life, and that it is in the common interest to support this goal.
Our design for the Lakewood Public Library speaks with the language of American civic architecture. It follows a grammar, a set of rules about proportion, scale, and composition. The more ancient architectural language of Classicism, which has informed our design, can ultimately be traced back to the world of Greece and Republican Rome, and to the idea of democracy. In American history, as well as in the collective consciousness of most Americans, civic life plays itself out in buildings conceived in Classical terms. If the language of our building is classical, the dialect it speaks is distinctly American, with its pragmatic layout, and openness to the street life of Detroit Avenue.
I would like to take you on a brief tour of the expanded library now being designed. The library will be entered from Detroit Avenue beneath a new civic-scaled entry porch. Twin light sconces will flank the front door, giving a welcoming invitation to enter the building. There will be a second new entry which will open directly to an expanded parking lot. Much like the kitchen door of many Midwestern houses it will provide a convenient, less formal way in (and like the kitchen door will probably be used most often). A new drop-off window will be provided for people who are in a hurry.
Gallery spaces will lead from both entrances to an expanded check-in desk. The galleries will be a good place to exhibit art, or perhaps photographs of Lakewood, past and present. Convenient to the entry and desk will be a large room holding popular materials—current newspapers and periodicals, new books, and some multi-media collections. A new children’s library, with custom furniture and environments for exploration, along with expanded collections, will also be conveniently accessible to the circulation desk. A new room for children’s programs will be featured.
There will be a new grand public stairway, skylit from above. A similar type of stair can be seen in old photographs of the original library, but sadly it had been removed in one of the many previous renovations. We now have the opportunity to reconnect with the past while providing a great place to meet, and in the future, perhaps a place for art.
On the lower leve there will be an auditorium and meeting room. We hope also to raise money to finish off a new auditorium space, which will provide a whole new range of opportunities for programs in the library. You can see any Board member with your check book in hand after this event!
The upper floor will house the majority of your collections, spread between the new and existing buildings. Your vibrant technology center will be upgraded with new equipment and ergonomic furniture. (No more tennis balls for casters!) Your splendid collection of videos and multi-media articles will have a large, dedicated room on this floor. We have also designed a grand reading room, a place that can serve as a living room for the entire community. With soaring ceilings, filtered natural light, and views overlooking Detroit Avenue, it will be like no other place in Lakewood. We are all excited about beginning construction next year.
Across America, the public library is increasingly viewed not only as an educational and social center, but also as an economic engine which can drive urban redevelopment. Modern, high quality library facilities bring people downtown who might not otherwise come. This in turn can help other businesses. Libraries can also be drawing cards to businesses thinking of moving into a community. High quality library systems, such as you enjoy in Lakewood, speak of a commitment to education, and its result, a high quality work force. Most importantly, libraries bring life to their community, and can point the way to an integrated neighborhood, with housing, stores and work-places, all within walking distance of the library.
Much has been made recently of the fact that we sometimes seem to be a divided nation, that we seem to have no common vision for the future. We are desperately in need of strong institutions that can help us to heal this rift, and to act as a forum for constructive dialog, discussion, and debate. The public library is such a place—perhaps our most important one.
On behalf of Robert Stern and our entire office and consultant team, I would like to thank the Board of Trustees, the library director, Ken Warren, and the dedicated staff, for giving us the opportunity to help to expand and re-imagine the Lakewood Public Library. I urge you to continue to support this critical institution. Thank you.