New Canaan Library
This new library is the physical and metaphorical heart of the Town of New Canaan. Located on a prominent gateway site, with a new sloped park eventually creating a grand civic space, it serves as a dynamic community learning platform for a wide variety of interests, with places for reading, cooking, making, socializing, tutoring, working, teaching, studying, and quiet contemplation.
New Canaan Library
“The library is an anchor institution for the town – an inclusive, welcoming place, which builds the strength and resilience of our community.” Lisa Oldham, Executive Director
Eleven years in the making, the 42,000-square-foot building is a roaring success, as evidenced by door counts more than double its predecessor. Its entry, located at the nexus of pedestrian circulation from downtown and nearby schools, welcomes patrons in a copious lobby with a café and gallery space. From it, visitors are beckoned up to a grand living room space whose steam fireplace, natural light, and access to the fiction collection create a friendly place where everyone is welcome.
“I love all the open spaces and light, and the atmosphere is really inviting. I really love everything the library has to offer and all the uses it can have for people of all ages.” Kelci Haley, New Canaan High School senior
Splaying out from the entry are library and program wings. The library wing accommodates the children’s library, circulation services, and offices on the first floor; the grand living room space on a mezzanine floor; and non-fiction collections, study rooms, loose seating, and a teen area with digital workspace on the second floor. The children’s library is organized into precincts by age, with a “tween cave” tucked under the living room and an outdoor garden. The low-slung program wing features a flexible, dividable, flat-floor program room to accommodate up to 300 people, and a demonstration kitchen.
“Our big idea is to socialize the library experience. The building provides protected spaces while fostering visual connections to other learning places. We hope to bring people together and inspire them to learn different things and learn them in different ways.” Jim Childress, FAIA, Principal in Charge
Furthering themes of transparency and connections to nature, the library is a responsible environmental steward, employing energy and water saving strategies, and reflects the town’s values of equity and tolerance as a pilot project for Design for Freedom, a movement seeking to eliminate modern slavery from construction supply chains.
The library was also Centerbrook's pilot project for integrating new energy and light modeling into the design process, spawning the creation of a new Sustainability Action Plan designed to help our buildings approach net zero and carbon neutrality. The building is all electric, with an Energy Use Intensity (EUI) of 17, which is 89 percent lower than the baseline EUI for libraries in this climate.
New Canaan is known for its modern architecture, home to icons like Phillip Johnson’s Glass House, the Noyes House, and the serpentine Grace Farms complex. Referencing modern traditions with its forms and composition, the building is clad in dry-laid stone, punched with dramatic glass elements adorned with vertical metal caps of varying heights that mimic New England's upland forests. The stone drifts this way and that, melding into the landscape with the glass playfully stepping over and touching down. Its expansive flat roofs support a photovoltaic array that can provide up to 50 percent of its power. Long overhangs provide shade and reduce energy use.
“Designer William Morris once said, ‘Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.’ We have applied this wisdom to our new library, which is as beautiful as it is functional.” Lisa Oldham, Executive Director