Tragedy struck Cedar Rapids, Iowa in June 2008, when a devastating flood swept the city and destroyed hundreds of homes, businesses, and several prominent public structures, including the public library. In the wake of the unprecedented natural disaster, the community and local studio OPN Architects joined together to rebuild the library. The new Cedar Rapids Public Library was reborn as a vibrant, multipurpose center that’s earned numerous architecture awards and LEED Platinum certification.



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Completed in 2013, the new Cedar Rapids Public Library is located a couple blocks from the original site and overlooks Greene Square Park. OPN’s meetings with the community guided the 95,000-square-foot library design, which, according to the architects, was “driven by the desire to embrace openness, transparency and foster public engagement with and within the space.” The building features large expanses of floor-to-ceiling glass to engage the streetscape and to overlook views of the park and cityscape. Large windows and a two-story central atrium allow natural light to penetrate deep into the building and reduce dependence on artificial lighting.

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The library spaces are organized around the central atrium in a hub-and-spoke system in which the cafe and coffee shop are located in the Service Core Zone, while the children’s, young adult, and adult fiction areas branch out from the hub. Clear sight lines and open vertical circulation help users navigate their way to their destinations. The second floor includes adult non-fiction collections, a conference space, offices, and a 200-seat auditorium facing the park that spans both the second and third floors. A breakout lobby for the auditorium sits on the third floor, which provides access to the 24,000-square-foot green roof.

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Related: Boxy new library by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects designed to regenerate Halifax

The Cedar Rapids Public Library achieved LEED Platinum certification thanks to its lowered energy footprint, which exceeds the Iowa Energy Code by 55% and uses energy at a rate of 37 ktbu per square foot—a significant savings compared to the pre-flood library’s rate of 100 kbtu per square foot. The exterior glazing that covers over a third of the building envelope is insulating with low-E coating. The building also includes a pump & re-inject geothermal HVAC system, daylight sensors, LEDs, and thermally broken aluminum framing. The accessible green roof harvests rainwater for irrigation, and combined with pervious paving, helps retain 90% of normal annual rainfall and 100% of all rainfall up to one inch in a 24-hour period on site.

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Via ArchDaily

Images via OPN Architects, by Main Street Studio – Wayne Johnson