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The surface level to Hayden Library on the ASU Tempe Campus became a mausoleum, of sorts, when the library entrance was sealed in 1988, as the then-new subterranean entrance to the library was opened south of the Hayden Lawn. Over the decades, the punchcard pre-cast panels on the outside, acted as a marker of its mid-century roots. It became a barrier for the sun as students and staff walked down Cady Mall on the way to Memorial Union for lunch. But, it never went away. When you’re an architect or designer, these are the things you notice when commissioned to bring new life to a building older than you. The project, dubbed the “ASU Hayden Library Reinvention,” involved the collaboration of Ayers Saint Gross Architects and TRUEFORM Landscape Architects. Normally, the further a landscape architect steps away from a project’s physical structure, the less they’re involved in the design. But, that dynamic was upended, owing to the unique design of Hayden Library. azarchitecture recently chatted with TRUEFORM’s principal architect Todd Briggs about this and the other unique dynamics to this project.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On a Reinvention of this Scale
This project was very unique, in many ways. It’s the heart of campus. Right away, this is gonna be high profile and heavily scrutinized, attention to detail from the President (of Arizona State University) and everybody else. With that comes all these discussions with the library itself, the chief librarian. “What is a library in this day and age, with technology and access?” It’s not the library of 50 years ago or even 20 years ago. That was a big part of it, “What is a library now?”
Obviously, that’s not impacting landscape a lot, but it does a little bit. Because it really encourages a porosity to its edges, which is why you now have three entries and exits at the library and more student engagement. All of those goals of the university start to factor into making more outdoor space accessible, useable, comfortable and flexible for different uses. It might be events, it just might be studying, it just might be two people having coffee. You have to achieve all of those. The challenges of marrying up all of those things, with new classroom space, a new structural lid, and a new plaza that’s at a different level from the Orange Mall. And then, matching that up with a 1966 building was super challenging.
On Peeling Back and Integrating Decades of Design Clutter
That subterranean entry [from an 1989 update] wasn’t there and it was this appendage. You know, trying to knit in a new perception of what a successful public space is and integrate with a 1966 building and architecture. When we see these old buildings like this, we’re always looking for chances to repurpose, reuse and recycle, all those “re”-words. What are the results of that intervention or what’s the goal and focus? A lot of the library felt very dark and dreary. There was not a lot of natural light. Ayers Saint Gross [the project architect] pulled all the granite slabs off the building. They made the first level of the library, which was the plaza deck level. It created a notion of this heavy base that the upper floors and delicate architecture sat upon.
But, we thought, “That granite is really beautiful — it’s just not doing what it needs to do anymore.” What if you pulled that off and used it in some other way? It happens to be two and a half inches thick. It’s really, really beefy and super heavy, but polished on one side. Once we inventoried how much granite would be available, we determined we could, because the library sits three feet above both Hayden Mall and Orange Mall, create this plinth, this raised platform plaza with the stairs and ramp to access it all the way around the entire library, with that material used as the retaining wall system. That proved to be one of the more exciting opportunities, because not one piece of granite was ever taken off site. It didn’t disappear, we kept that history in close context. It tells that story right there.
As a design team alone, we closely collaborated with the architect on almost every detail, because every single thing we did was touching the building or touching the roof of the plaza below. On most projects, once we step away from the building, we’re not engaging much with architecture at all. The collaboration between the architect and the landscape architect isn’t as important. But, on this one, we collaborated on a daily basis. ASU that has such a layered system of management, you have to navigate all the different avenues including the offices of the university architect, capital planning and management, the President and CEO. And, all four entities have different opinions.
On Goals Set By Their Client of the Final Product
They had earmarked that north plaza down below at the moat level as a study space, an entry and exit and an event space. In normal, non-COVID times, the library hosts anywhere between a half dozen to a dozen special events, for which they’d use the outside area. And, they wanted to be clear, open, flexible, and not have many obstructions within it, but, at the same time, you don’t want it make it feel vast and empty. Making sure they could accommodate an event but still keep it inviting enough for four or five people in a study group to get out into the courtyard during nice weather was important. That north plaza is really interesting because it is shaded by the building for a long time during the year. So, it’s actually quite a pleasant environment even when it’s pretty warm out. That was completed first in August of 2019.
They required that and then the rest of the plaza level that sits three feet above Hayden Lawn and Mall, Orange Mall, and the MU [Memorial Union], just became seamless between the two as much as possible. And, they wanted it as useable and flexible with tables and chairs. Those just recently arrived. None of the photographs you’ve seen actually show furniture on the deck. There’s power all over the place up there so people can plug in. They put some Wifi enhancers on the building so all those plaza decks have really good strong signals. So that whole deck is usable and seamless to the surrounding malls, lawn and plaza. And that was really the predominant goal.
On Complimenting the Existing Design
We did something on some of the pedestal walls that hold the edges of the granite walls or stairs and ramps. We gave a little cant back on those walls because they sort of pick up that geometry on the pre-cast panels on the library. If you look at the columns on the old 1966 library, those columns actually taper down, they’re a little bit canted, so we picked that up and repeated it on the wall that project on the malls out toward the edge. Then, we repeated that angle with the handrails and the ramps. I was really looking to study the architecture and compliment it. And that goes all the way down to the planters, those white planters on top of the walls at the stairs and ramps. They weren’t custom designed, but they were made locally at Kornegay Design. And that design seemed to pick up a lot of what was going on in the hanging precast panels. There are a lot of little gestures.
On Feedback from the University Staff and Students
The north patio was used for six or seven months. I don’t think they ever hosted an event there, because they’re still adjusting to how to use their new library. But everything I’ve heard from the head librarian and the campus architect is that everyone loves the final product. President Crow said one time that his opinion of this library is that it’s ASU’s Acropolis [of Athens] and after it was all done, because there’s a new lighting effect on it, he says it’s elevated to what beyond it was. Obviously, the deck outside wasn’t used too much because COVID hit, and there never was furniture there until recently. We’ll see how it’s used. I’m curious to see it, I kinda wish I spent this last spring semester out there watching people. Because that’s what we love to do, just sit and watch people use space. We love to see how they use it.
On Architectural Luck in COVID
The interesting thing about COVID is that the upper deck space was space designed and laid out for furniture that actually exceeds CDC distancing requirements for seating. Just by chance, it just does. And, the reason why is that everything was predicated on the layout, the rhythm of the trees on the west side of the library that separate it and Cady Mall. When they grow, those trees will provide shade along Cady Mall, and provide shade for the seating.
I think there are 18 trees, so there are 18 pockets of seating and shade. All of those already adhere to ASU’s new guidelines, so they haven’t had to re-adjust anything along that entire deck like they have had to do everywhere else. You know, we didn’t forecast it, we just got lucky. But, we’re pretty giddy about that! I just talked to the landscape architect about that the other day about. And he said, “Yeah, we’re laying the furniture out and everything is meeting the distance requirements.”
On What They Learned from This Project
I guess the thing we took from this project the most goes back to more about the notion of history, preservation and repurposing. There really is no building, product or material on that project that you can’t find a way to reinvent it. That goes back to why they called it the Reinvention Project. There are no bounds to what you can redefine for a new generation or century. Because, as all of you at azarchitecture know, in Phoenix, we’re tearing down way too many buildings. And this could be one of those glowing examples of not needing to tear down anything. You can go in and surgically modify and tweak. It can be really delicately or really heavy handed. You can always find value in a building or a site, pretty much anything and figure out how to reinvent it, modify, change it into what the needs are today.