is Austin's new central library a mighty mountain of "meh"?

After an earlier, aborted attempt to see Austin's new Central Library (I forgot to put batteries in the camera...), we finally stopped in for a proper visit. Designed by the iconic Lake | Flato, the library is purported to be the most light-filled library in the country.

The interior is stunning.

After a modest, human-sized entry, a massive six-story atrium crisscrossed with steel stairways and wooden bridges gasps open as the defining feature of the design. The library is both low-tech (books) and high tech (terminals) with many spaces for congregating, studying, and reading. On the rooftop is an open patio with great views of Lady Bird Lake (Town Lake for you grumpy oldtimers) and downtown. Soon there will a restaurant conjuring biblio-inspired dishes. And if you despise sprogs (small, screaming children), the children's library is sealed and separate from the adult fare. Brilliant!

I'm not as enamored with the exterior. It includes the standard architectural checklist for a pseudo-ambitious contemporary public building resulting in a mighty mountain of "meh". Was it necessary to use the same materials used by Antoine Predock in City Hall a few blocks down the street? I could understand that if the library was right next door, but there's a lot of not-Predock between the library and the Predock (and Predock employed these materials so much better). Come to think of it, Predock also has crisscrossing bridges in his atrium. Is the library Lake | Flato's response to Predock's call in a lame attempt at architectural one-upmanship?

My guess is that the city, in an ill-informed attempt to create architectural consistency in its buildings, limited the material choices (and perhaps asked for something complementary to city hall). Lake | Flato already has a massive reputation; it certainly doesn't need to get into a tete-a-tete with Predock (Predock? Predock who?). I wasn't able to find the request for proposals for the library to verify this. I did find a charette report that resulted in a request to use 50 percent local materials. Or maybe both architectural firms, aiming to use local materials, came up with the same brilliant mixture of materials?

Ultimately, buildings are judged by how they perform and meet the needs of the people using it. Based on the number of people using the library (not counting the architecture nerds, of which there were many), the project looks like a resounding success. Will it be an iconic Austin building?

Time will tell...

What is next door is the Streamline Moderne repurposed power plant, where we stopped in to Boiler 9 for drinks and appetizers.

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