Bordered by a state road, a parking lot, wetlands, and a 100-year floodplain, the 15,000-square-foot Hockessin Public Library in New Castle, Del., didn’t have much room to expand to meet the state’s guideline of 25,000 square feet for branch libraries. So the design team at ikon5 Architects decided on a somewhat radical solution: cantilever out over the floodplain to increase square footage.
The cantilevered volume houses a glass-enclosed children’s reading room, filled with soft seating and a bevy of kid’s books ranging from Goodnight Moon to Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich. The architects knew they wanted to glaze the exterior, to maximize views of the neighboring park, but also “didn’t want to turn it into an oven,” says ikon5 principal Joe Tattoni, so they turned to a custom ceramic frit to minimize heat gain.
The pattern was designed in-house. The inspiration came from the drooping branches of nearby willow trees, styled into what Tattoni refers to as “a highly machined gesture of nature.” To get the design from desktop to glass, the firm turned to their local Viracon technical representative, who helped them streamline the process and manage costs.
The end result is only two ceramic frit patterns that are screened onto eight different widths of glass units. The finished pieces—47 of them—were then arranged so that the pattern appears to be completely random.
A final addition to the curtain wall is a thin stainless steel bar threaded horizontally through the interior vertical mullions. This detail was added for the peace of mind of the library staff, who were nervous about library carts harming the glass.
“Because it’s a kids library,” says Tattoni, “there is the possibility that a hyper 5-year-old will get a hold of one [of the carts] and turn it into a projectile. Not that a kid is ever going to be able to go through tempered glass, but it was a very small thing to add.” Placed at the height of the library’s existing stock of carts, the bar acts as a buffer, both for the windows and for the librarians’ nerves.
The structure of the cantilever itself was also calculated to keep costs down. To support the cantilever, the steel beam had to be 36 inches wide, nearly double the width that would be required if the reading room were supported on the other end. Wider steel normally means higher costs, but the particular 36-inch-flange steel beams are a standard size used in long-span ceiling systems, and therefore less expensive than other options. “It is a readily available material,” says Tattoni. “We just used it in the floor instead of the ceiling.”
The project included renovation of the interiors and exteriors of the original 1980s building and the addition of a new community room and lobby. “Our contribution,” says Tattoni, “was to take the external forces on a very real program on a very real site and make it as meaningful as possible.”