Alice McKean Young Library
City of Houston, Texas
Posted: December 23, 2019 | Projects
Designed by Perkins + Will, the new Alice McKean Young Neighborhood Library offers more than a library: it’s also a quiet escape from a noisy chaotic world, where patrons can focus, relax, investigate, learn, or just read – regardless of age.
This was the second design for the new library (the first being halted by a major budget crises). The second design relied more on community input – seeking to focus on the community at large – and used the input to make the library into a central place and a beacon of knowledge for the community. The input provided the seed for a new design which became exactly what the community needed.
The 16,000-square-foot library features meeting spaces and abundant technological resources to help everyone succeed in their endeavors. The library also offers computer classes, job labs, gaming, and homework help sessions.
The library is unique, as it was designed to fit the needs of a specific community. It offers programs and resources that enliven the community with skills and knowledge that make better lives. It provides easy access throughout the community, being near active metro and bus lines.
The first design for the new Alice McKean Young Library met with delays. In 2010, a major budget crisis halted the project, shelving the design for good. After a restart in 2012, Perkins + Will committed to community-integrated design, working with stakeholders to produce a library both by, and for, the people of the neighborhood. From 2012 to February 2014, community meetings were held to engage in a deeper discussion of the needs of the neighborhood.
The intent and focus of these meetings are some of the keys to the success of the Young Library. Three major themes, as well as formal design considerations, came out of them. First, the library should be focused on the community, representing its aspirations and desires for healthy community resource. Second, it should act as a beacon, marking the site as a central space for the neighborhood. And third, it should be intergenerational, offering resources for all visitors, from retirees to pre-readers.
The discussion of the building’s form was an important selling point for the area, too. During a conversation with John Strasius, the associate principal with Perkins + Will, and Meredith Hunt, the project architect, Strasius said that the first design was described as “austere and boxy.” Many community members wanted curves and organic shapes, representative of the dynamic and diverse neighborhood the library was to serve. As a result, from Hunt’s perspective, Perkins + Will produced a “much better building because of the community input; the end project was one that everybody was excited about.” This methodology of community-integrated design allowed ownership to be spread throughout the community, not just to the public agencies that funded the project.
The Young Library’s location is another key to its success. Situated next to KIPP schools, catty-corner from the Houston Texans’ YMCA, across from a new mixed-income housing development, and just down the street from the Palm Center Transit Center station on Metro’s Purple Line, the library is at the center of the development of the neighborhood. As such, the design had to consider community access. With input from stakeholders, Perkins + Will strategically designed two main entrances that increase safety and ease of use and accommodate the range of transportation options that community members use.
The traditional role of a library is to be a provider of books, but an updated version of that role is to provide resources of all kinds to the community. The proposal from Architecture firm OMA made this shift clear as a public statement that the library should transform itself into an information storehouse.
The Young Library does provide books, but also DVDs, computer resources, even a makerspace for rapid prototyping. Non-physical resources like language classes, employment help and veteran services are also held there, fulfilling the multipurpose goals set forth by the community. The Young Library provides a true public space for Southeast Houston, and a worthwhile alternative for young people who might otherwise prefer hanging out on the street.
Perkins + Will
1001 McKinney, Ste. 1300
Houston, TX 77002
Gilbane Building Company
1331 Lamar Street, Ste. 1170
Houston, TX 77010
Date Bid: Apr 2008
Construction Period: Jun 2015 to Oct 2016
Total Square Feet: 16,800
Site: 1.92 acres.
Number of Buildings: One.
Building Sizes: First floor, 16,800; total, 16,800 square feet.
Building Height: First floor, 10′; total, 27′.
Basic Construction Type: New.
Exterior Walls: Thin stone veneer, metal wall panels.
Interior Walls: Metal stud drywall.