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Billings Public Library

Will Bruder Architects, O2 Architects


Billings Public Library

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Project Description


Tasked with realizing the vision of a central donor and citizens who were seeking a beautiful and highly functional building, the design team for the new Billings Public Library created a timeless landmark for the city that is innovative and responsive while celebrating the state’s architectural heritage.

Situated in the urban center of the community, it’s the only public library serving Montana’s largest metropolitan area. With that in mind, the team imbued the building with a sense of place and the forms draw from local references: the unique geology of the region’s Rimrocks, “big sky” horizons, and the simple elegance of early settler’s homes, pole barns, and grain elevators. The library rises from a foundation of golden-gray Rimrock sandstone and architectural masonry and is capped with zinc-clad wall panels and perforated stainless steel shading panels that are calibrated to maximize views and provide optimal lighting conditions.

The library solidifies the northwestern edge of historic downtown Billings. It is a ¼-mile walk to the library from two public transportation lines, and showers and bike racks encourage staff and patrons to consider alternate transportation. A tapestry of native trees and ground covers provide texture and echo seasonal colors, while a pocket park and walled courtyard provide spaces for outdoor events.

With the use of native plant species and water harvesting to create a parking garden, rather than a mere lot, the library has set a new standard of sustainability for the community and region. The building uses nearly 46 percent less energy than allowed by Montana Code and diverts 100 percent of stormwater from the sewer system. The team’s use of reused and local materials as well as state of the art systems for heating, cooling, and plumbing, the library exemplifies the best practices that have led to its LEED Platinum certification.

Inside, the library offers both familiar and surprising sentiments. A grand space with sweeping views of the landscape, it also provides a distinct level of comfort for the community it serves. At the main level, patrons are greeted with a two-story sky-lit lobby with self-serve check in and check out stations, a help desk, café, and shop. Colorful graphics work hand in hand with wall finishes and plan geometries to provide the feel of a public living room. A cluster of log stools, a reflecting pool, and a 51-foot-tall sculptural “story cone” in the children’s area deepen the sense of the library as a comfortable space with a tremendous view in which one can answer a question, engage an idea, or sit back and daydream.
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