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Cedar Rapids Public Library

OPN Architects

Shared By



  • Construction Manager: Ryan Companies
  • Civil Engineer: Ament Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineer: Design Engineers
  • Construction Manager: Knutson Construction Services
  • Other: Threshold Acoustics
  • Other: George Lawson
  • Other: Dan Van Woert
  • Other: Schuler and Shook

Project Status


Room or Space


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Project Description

In June 2008 a flood swept through Cedar Rapids, Iowa, filling its downtown central library with eight feet of water and damaging the building and materials beyond repair. In the wake of this unprecedented natural disaster, the city rallied to build a new central library.

The design of the new library was guided by three primary ideas: 1) Establish the library as the dynamic center of the city’s urban core; 2) Embrace the transformational shifts of a Next Generation Library; and 3) Minimize the building’s environmental impact and long term operational costs. The new library represented a tremendous investment of resources and it was critical that the building respond to environmental imperatives and leverage new technologies to be as sustainable and efficient as possible.

From the exterior, the activity of the library is prominently on display through large expanses of floor-to-ceiling glass that wrap around the building, visually connecting patrons and pedestrians. On the interior, the design maximizes flexibility and leverages new mobile and RFID technologies to meet the rapidly changing needs of the 21st Century library. In the words of the library director, the new library needed to function “more like an Apple Store and less like the DMV.” Guided by that statement, the design team removed dense book stacks, the traditional circulation desk, and the security systems at the door. In their stead are lower height shelves that preserve views across the building and welcoming staff kiosks strategically placed throughout the collection space.

The site of the new library fronts the city’s primary urban park and bookends the Museum of Art on the opposite side. This placement of library, park and museum completes a larger urban dialogue and creates an active civic zone. The front façade of the library takes this dialogue further by stepping back to create a large urban plaza which functions as an extension of the public spaces of park and street. The building is located within blocks of the city’s primary urban park, historic theatre, convention center, outdoor amphitheater, restaurants, and hotels. Located within a quarter mile of at least two city bus routes and immediately adjacent to a bike trail, patrons and staff are encouraged to use public transportation or bike to the library.

The team focused on practical and measurable strategies and solutions aimed at achieving high performance in sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. The new library is 10,000 square feet larger than the old library, yet uses less than one third of the energy consumed by the old building on a per square foot basis. The design team integrated sustainable elements into every aspect of the building. Smart digital displays throughout the building track the water and energy usage educating visitors about the building’s systems, operations and environmental impact.
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