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West Berkeley Public Library

Harley Ellis Devereaux

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Project Name

West Berkeley Public Library

Project Status


Year Completed



9,500 sq. feet


City of Berkeley


  • Project Architect: Gerard Lee, AIA
  • Additional Team Members: Wan Chin Lo AIA; Albert H. Sawano AIA; Sylvia C. Wallis, AIA; Michael Bulander; Luciana Arim


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Project Description


The City of Berkeley sought to construct a library that would serve the many dynamic and evolving needs of its neighborhood and serve as a true community hub. The existing West Berkeley Library was in dire need of extensive renovation and spatially out of date for contemporary requirements and future adaptability. Extensive study revealed that the embodied energy required to construct a new zero net energy (ZNE) structure would be offset by the ongoing cost of maintaining a renovated existing structure within one year’s time. Based on these findings the city embraced the creation of a new 9500 square foot library. 

The main room of the library includes stacks, computer stations, various seating areas, a children’s area and circulation desk. A large multipurpose room doubles as additional reading room space. A teen room, and staff and service areas round out the program. 

The Library maintains the street wall of University Avenue, a major neighborhood thoroughfare. Businesses and some mixed use residential buildings generate vibrant pedestrian street life throughout the day and into the evening. To convey a strong civic presence the traditional elements of the neighborhood library façade are composed within a large frame that defines the boundary of the façade. Bike parking, book drop-off as well as places to meet or to sit and chat are organized within a sheltering alcove that leads to the front entrance. In this way a neighborhood front porch is provided that aggregates public activity and link the street to the interior.

A fiber-cement panel rain screen façade above a concrete base provides and a high performance envelope and an elegantly organized façade that befits a civic structure. Wood timber and paneling is employed inside and out to humanize the project in concert with a bright color palette. 

Just as the main room opens to the street at one end, where a large window provides views to the bustle of the neighborhood, it opens at the opposite end from an intimate children’s area to a garden. The garden is comprised of oak trees with native understory planting that replicates an upland riparian landscape, the underlying original flora of the site. This habitat for butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators along with the zero net energy design of the structure, expand the ecological education opportunities the library offers. 

Carefully controlled daylight is harvested from the skylights and large areas of glazing at the north and south elevations. To minimize lighting loads natural light is provided to 90% of enclosed space. The control of direct sunlight further minimizes heat gain and reduces glare. The rigor of this strategy produces a luminous and serene space. Skylights traverse the main room from front to rear connected by a ceiling shaped to both maximizes delivery of light to the patrons and creates a unifying rhythm that brings a monumental scale to the space that organizes the variety of activities below.

 The ZNE design process begins with the optimization of onsite renewable energy. The building footprint is optimized to maximize roof area for solar thermal and photovoltaic solar panels. In order to match the actual building consumption to the energy budget provided by this system a variety of passive strategies were developed. 

Analysis of local climate data revealed that a steady ocean breeze could be utilized for ventilation. The front façade is extended above roof level to create a continuous wind chimney. Prevailing breezes create negative pressure behind the façade where louvers draw air through the main spaces from windows at the opposite end of the building. Additionally, skylights automatically open to support airflow. A radiant floor system connected to rooftop solar thermal panels provides heating and cooling. 

These passive strategies are coordinated by a building management system that is tied to a roof top weather station. The BMS can thereby switch modes from natural ventilation to full cooling for comfort control. There is no additional HVAC system in the facility.

The design requirements for the construction of the first certified zero net energy public library in California, and those for a beloved neighborhood gathering place for all ages, go hand in hand. Each of these goals inspired the other. The process to fulfill both of these aspirations demanded an integrated, inclusive and collaborative design process. What was sought is a building rigorously tuned to the geography and climate as well as to its public mission, in short a solution derived from the specificity of place in all its dimensions. Such is the source of delight and lasting value.
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