Written by Tony Davies, Michelle Morgan, Daniel Howells and Steven Self
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The Austin Central Library is a must see on any visit to Austin, Texas, described as “the front porch for the city” and rated by Time Magazine as one of their 100 World’s Greatest Places for 2018.
The library opened in 2017 on W. Cesar Chavez in an area of downtown Austin undergoing regeneration and redevelopment.
The library makes great use of its location with a roof garden overlooking downtown Austin and Lady Bird Lake, and two open air reading porches with views to the Barton Hills district. The roof top even includes a butterfly garden – we didn’t spot any butterflies on our visit, but the idea does echo the new Butterfly Bridge over the adjacent Shoal Creek which is a popular walking and biking route.
Speaking of the bike route, there’s a large bicycle emblem on the wall facing Shoal Creek, encouraging cyclists on the bike path to make a stop at the library which provides 200 bike parking spots and a bike repair station. Encouraging bike riders is just part of this building’s environment credentials.
The library has 567 solar panels on the roof that serve double purpose by providing shade for the garden. It’s the largest rooftop solar installation in downtown Austin, but the environmental design doesn’t end there. At the heart of the Austin Central Library is a six – storey atrium that provides sunshine to 80 per cent of the public spaces. It’s a beautiful and uplifting space, but it also has a practical purpose.
The building is designed to be 30 per cent more efficient than Austin’s already progressive energy code.
Water is collected from the library roof that provides for all the toilet flushing, as well as irrigation for the gardens. Another delightful environmental feature is a seed library with heirloom seeds to “borrow” – borrowers are encouraged to harvest more seeds from their gardens to replenish the library.
But for all the environmental features of this building, it is also a wonderful library providing 50,000 books, an entire floor for children and teens, 3D printers and other tech, and a range of beautifully furnished study and recreation spaces.
When you’ve finished your tour of the library, make sure you leave time to visit the Cookbook Bar & Café on the ground floor which has a menu of snacks and meals drawn from a special collection of over 500 cookbooks belonging to the late Austin Chronicle food editor Virginia B. Wood. If it’s past cocktail hour you can partake of the library café’s cocktail menu –
a Huckleberry Gin or a Tequila Mockingbird perhaps? Also, don’t forget to pick up a souvenir from the gift shop when you’re done!
(Our sincere thanks to Sharon Herfurth for showing us around.)