New Public Library Confirms Santa Monica’s Commitment to Sustainability
May 07, 2007

By Staff
Appeared in Environmental Design + Construction

The City of Santa Monica was recently reported a 5.7 percent decrease in its Ecological Footprint, an index that tracks a location’s use of the earth’s resources in terms of water and land area. As a result, a resident of Santa Monica only requires 20.9 acres of the planet’s resources to support his or her lifestyle compared to 23.7 acres for the average American.

The city’s new public library likely contributed to these improved statistics. While the City of Santa Monica has been committed to sustainable activity for some time now — it contracts with a renewable energy provider, for example — the new 109,000 square foot facility is one in a series of recent construction projects that was able to achieve the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating, in this case a Gold rating.

And unlike the Santa Monica Public Safety Building, which has received a Silver rating, the public library is truly a public space, which, as city architect Lauren Friedman pointed out, “everyone uses in one form or another. That’s why it was very important to us that it represent all of our values.”

Though moderate in size, the project was large in ambition. Not only did the city ask for a model of a 21st century city library, it needed to be user friendly and service-oriented, flexible, equipped with the latest information systems, easily accessible and designed to provide recreational space that would help make it into “the living room of the city.” Occupying half a downtown city block, the library is built on the site of the old public library, located seven blocks from the beach and in close proximity to public transportation. Achieving LEED certification was high on the agenda of city officials who considered it their mandate to create a new landmark for their community.

“It’s great to work with a client who is so LEED committed,” says Mike Nishida, Associate Partner with Syska Hennessy Group, the engineering firm brought on board to implement the green design concepts. “LEED gives you all kinds of flexibility,” he explained, “and working in close partnership with the city of Santa Monica, Morley Builders and Moore Ruble Yudell Architects, we were able to identify as many opportunities for sustainable design as possible.”

Ultimately, the project was able to rack up 40 points, seven for sustainable sites, three for water efficiency, nine for energy and atmosphere, six for materials and resources, 10 for indoor environmental quality, and five for innovation and design process.

It Does Rain in Southern California
This fortunate fact allowed for what is probably the most innovative feature of the project: the design and construction of the first underground cistern west of the Mississippi. The 13.3 inches of rainfall Santa Monica receives in a typical year translate into roughly one million gallons

Collected via the inverted roof — which also transfers rainwater down into the central garden — and from surface parking as well as the courtyard areas, the stormwater is filtered and diverted to a 200,000-gallon cistern system reducing total site run-off by 20 percent. After solids and other pollutants have been removed, the retained stormwater is used to irrigate the main library landscaping as well as adjacent streetscape plantings.

Looking Good and Feeling Good
Given the solid in-house experience in sustainable design it could bring to the table, the City of Santa Monica was able to focus solely on design excellence when selecting the architectural firm to realize its vision of a welcoming, comfortable and user-friendly public building. Eschewing traditional library design, Moore Rubell Yudell Architects created a design that allows access to the information and circulation area from all adjacent streets rather than just through one central entrance. Further connecting the building with its surroundings are partly enclosed gardens that soften and enrich street edges and provide calming interior views.

Reading spaces are visible from the street, and banquette seating under a low canopy creates gathering spaces and resting places for library users and passers-by. The sloped roof provides variety and character to the large open spaces on the second floor Reference Library. An outdoor terrace at the second level overlooks the central courtyard, while the first-floor lobby provides direct access to this green space via operable floor-to-ceiling windows.

Less visible, but equally important when it comes to creating a comfortable environment, are features like the integrated underfloor air distribution system which the city had specified even before the actual design process got under way. Creating perimeter fan-assisted air-handling zones within the 12 inch-high floor plenum, project engineers achieved improved thermal comfort for building occupants as well as better indoor air quality.

Outside air, which is introduced into the mechanical slightly below room temperature, gradually warms as it travels up, and is then exhausted out. This floor air-conditioning system can be monitored locally, allowing for greater flexibility and increased user control. This is particularly important in a building where most of the office spaces have operable windows.

During the design phase, Moore Ruble Yudell also engaged Syska Hennessy Group to perform an analysis of the daylight to the first floor Popular Reading Area as well as the second floor Reference Reading Room. “The goal of the study was to determine daylight contribution in these areas which abut a glazed curtainwall,” explained Nashida.

The study assumed visible light transmittance (47 percent) for the glazed curtainwall, which was consistent with the specified Viracon VE-DD insulated glazing product. For expediency, the study analyzed daylight contribution at discreet times and dates and when sun angles are at extreme conditions. To provide an accurate sample of the daylight contribution in the space for a building in Santa Monica, calculations also considered clear and overcast sky conditions.

The engineering team used AG132 software to perform numerical point-by-point calculations of incident direct or reflected light on any real surface or imaginary plane. The window coverings, which are driven by photovoltaic sensors, were programmed accordingly. Combined with the use of high-performance dual-glazed windows, insulation, and the solar electric panels installed on the roof, this daylighting system contributes to making the building 30 percent more efficient than building code requires.

Material Connections
The concern for sustainability also drove the selection of materials and furnishings in the building. Fifty percent of all materials used contain significant recycled content. One example would be the easily swappable floor tiles with backing made of ground carpet. Paints, plywood and pressboard were manufactured using glues and binders low in VOCs, and wherever wood was used, it was obtained from sustainably harvested forests. Over 20 percent of the building’s interiors were manufactured locally. While visitors to the building are unlikely to be unaware of all that’s behind the scenes to ensure their comfort — unless, of course, they study the sustainability brochure available at the library entrances — they clearly enjoy the experience and keep coming back.

“This building has exceeded all of our expectations,” enthused Friedman. “The public loves it. It makes them feel good. And I don’t think they link that to a design that is sustainable. The just attribute it to really good design.”