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Veil is Lifted at Main Library

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

December 19 -- After months of wondering what lay behind the monochromatic façade at 6th and Santa Monica Boulevard, members of the media got a look last week at the interior of the new $57.7 million Main Library.

Under construction for more than two years, the 104,000-square-foot library -- which will open to the public on January 7 -- showcases cutting-edge sustainable features, as well as an historic mural that has been out of sight for nearly half a century.

It’s the work of Moore Ruble Yudell, Architects, a Santa Monica firm that recently won the prestigious American Institute of Architects’ 2006 Architecture Firm Award honoring its work in Sweden, Germany, and China, as well as in Southern California.

The entrance to the new main branch library (Photos by Ann K. Williams)

While the building’s exterior has been described as "too institutional" and “gulag architecture,” once inside, patrons will be bathed in natural light and can look out on the city, the sky and even -- on a clear day -- the sparkling blue ocean waves.

Principal Architect Krista Becker opens the wall to the courtyard garden.

The library’s multistory “walls of glass,” movable walls and “operable windows” make the most of natural light and air, breaking down the barriers between inside and out, allowing patrons to wander in and out of the garden courtyard where they’ll be able to enjoy a cup of coffee while they browse the latest best seller.

Architect Hae Kwan Park enjoys the sunlight flowing into the “grand reading room.”

Designed with sustainability in mind, the library’s reading room is one of many spaces that take advantage of natural lighting modified by “mecho-shades” that adapt to conditions outside, reducing the need for air conditioning.

Other green features include:

  • Air conditioning that goes off when windows are opened,
  • An “Energy Star™” roof that reduces “heat islands” inside,
  • A 200,000 gallon cistern that collects and recycles rainwater runoff,
  • Solar electric panels, and
  • Paints, sealants and adhesives that use “little or none of the dangerous chemicals commonly found in these materials.”

The entire building will be “flushed” by running the mechanical systems for two weeks and then replacing all filters before the library is opened to the public.

The new “kids” center

Noisier activities will be confined to the first floor, Principal Architect Krista Becker said, as she led the tour Wednesday through the new teen and children’s centers, which include a “parenting center,” a “time out” patio for toddler meltdowns and an auditorium/stage area with chairs in “small, medium and large.”

The courtyard at the heart of the new library

Patrons taking the outside stairs to the second floor will be treated to a birds-eye view of the cafe garden featuring an “Underwater Canopy” designed by artist Carl Cheng.

Two mural panels brighten up a second floor hallway.

Then, as they wander the nonfiction, periodicals and Santa Monica collections on the second floor, they’ll be able to see the Stanton Macdonald-Wright murals from the “old-old” library for the first time in more than 40 years.

Thanks to a group of preservationists led by Landmarks Commissioner Roger Genser, the murals were returned this year from the Smithsonian Institution, where they’d languished in storage since 1964.

The murals had been sent there when the previous main library -- built in the mid-30s -- moved into its new home on 6th Street.

But the murals’ new backdrop will be radically different from the depression-era library in which modernist artist Macdonald-Wright painted them.

“In the original library, they were sequential around a symmetrical room,” Clay Holden of Moore Ruble Yudell told the Los Angeles Times last week.

The progress of philosophy is depicted in the Stanton Macdonald-Wright mural in the computer room.

They told the story of human progress in thought and technology from the dawn of history to the twentieth century.

Now they will be “sprinkled” throughout the second floor, used more as a design element than as an allegory, Becker said.

The largest display is in the computer room, where a view of what appears to be a gathering of sages admiring Santa Monica Bay is interrupted by long fluorescent light fixtures.

Once all the murals are installed, docents will be available to guide tour groups, Becker said.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium

The public is invited to the Grand Opening from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m on January 7.

The festivities will feature an appearance by actor/children’s book author Jamie Lee Curtis and will break in the long-awaited Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium.

Ample parking will be available in the 558-space, three-story underground garage.

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