Case Study Tompkins Library

Project Details
Project: Tompkins Library
Segment: Education
Location: Ithaca, New York
DESIGNER / ARCHITECT: QPK Design in Syracuse

Colorful, custom-designed walkway proves to be a key design element in conversion of old Woolworth store to new Tompkins County library

One of the most popular thoroughfares in Ithaca, New York, is the Avenue of the Friends.

The Avenue, however, is not located outdoors. The Avenue is actually a colorful, custom-designed linoleum walkway that bisects the interior of the new Tompkins County Public Library in downtown Ithaca.

The Avenue has quickly become a well-traveled path as a result of the dramatic increase in patrons that has occurred ever since the library moved from its small, aging building to a brand new facility that had once been an abandoned F.W. Woolworth store.

According to Janet Steiner, the library’s director, the need for a new facility was quite evident. "We completed a strategic plan in 1995, and quickly realized that the existing building was a barrier to all the things we wanted the library to do. Usage was increasing, and we were running out of room. As a result, we couldn’t provide all the services we wanted to. We had simply outgrown the space."

Vacant Woolworth Store Chosen as New Home

Measuring 25 feet in width and nearly 200 feet in length, the Avenue of the Friends is constructed of Armstrong LinoArt MARMORETTE Linoleum and features a swirl of color that winds its way from one end of the walkway to the other.

The library found a new home in the form of a vacant F.W. Woolworth store located on a corner across the street from the Ithaca City Hall. The new facility offered a number of benefits, including a significant increase in space (69,000 sq. ft. vs. 35,000 sq. ft.), close proximity to a city parking lot, and a scheduled stop on a city bus line. And, the price was right. "The cost of renovating the former store was three to four million dollars less than building a brand new library or expanding the old one," Steiner states.

Following purchase of the structure, the Tompkins County Library Construction Committee selected the architectural firm of QPK Design in Syracuse to design the renovation and reconfiguration of the facility. Founded in 1958, the firm offers a full array of services including architecture, interior design, engineering and site planning. About half of QPK’s work is renovation; the other half, new construction.

According to Teresa Crooke and Connie Brace, the interior designer and architect on the project, the first step was to "break up the box." "The structure was typical of a store built in the sixties," Brace explains. "It was rectangular in shape, with a brick shell and large, glass store fronts on two sides.

"In order to eliminate the box look, we basically had to gut the entire building. There isn’t much of the old structure left." The architects cut into the exterior walls to create space for more windows. They removed the existing façade and canopy, and created a recessed area to provide shelter. And, they rounded off the corner of the building and converted it into the main entrance. As Brace notes, "The new building looks nothing like the old one. It’s a total transformation."

When it came to the interior, Steiner notes that she simply gave the architects a list of adjectives describing what the committee wanted in the new library. Three of the key adjectives were "warm, friendly and inviting." "The architects listened and they delivered," she states. Diagonal Walkway Highlights Interior Design Approach

The QPK team began their design by creating a diagonal through the building. The primary element in the approach is a wide, colorful walkway that begins in the corner where the main entrance is located and continues to a reading room at the back of the building. The diagonal design helps eliminate the box look on the inside of the building. It also separates the children’s section, which is on one side of the walkway, and the quieter adult sections, which are on the other.

The walkway is named the "Avenue of the Friends" in honor of the "Friends of the Library," a group of private citizens that has been funding library projects for more than fifty years. Measuring 25 feet in width and nearly 200 feet in length, the Avenue is constructed of linoleum and features a swirl of color that winds its way from one end of the walkway to the other.

According to Crooke, linoleum was an important part of the overall design of the library. "Green building design was a concern of the construction committee," she states. "The committee requested that materials used in the building be designed to last 20 years, be manufactured from natural materials, and have no VOCs."

She also explains that two of the reasons the team wanted resilient flooring for the walkway were its ease of maintenance and its durability. "Because of all the walk-in traffic, we knew carpet would never hold up. It simply would not last the 20 years that the committee wanted. Linoleum was our choice from the beginning because it met all of the committee’s requirements. Plus, it was functional, economical and aesthetic."

By the time they were done, the QPK design team used nearly 10,000 square feet of linoleum in the library, including the walkway, the heavily trafficked circulation area near the main entrance, and the area leading into the children’s section. Crooke notes that linoleum was also chosen for the restrooms. "The committee didn’t want ceramic tile in these areas because they didn’t want to worry about maintenance of the grout."

The team selected LinoArt MARMORETTE Linoleum from Armstrong for use in the project. Available in 36 colors in both sheet and tile form, the MARMORETTE pattern features the fine marbling that is characteristic of classic linoleum. LinoArt MARMORETTE Linoleum in sheet form was chosen over tile because it required fewer seams and lent itself better to customization.

Nearly 10,000 square feet of Armstrong LinoArt MARMORETTE Linoleum flooring were used in the new Tompkins County Public Library, including this heavily trafficked circulation area located near the main entrance.

Design Team Chose Trio of Warm, Earthy Colors

Crooke designed the walkway using three LinoArt MARMORETTE Linoleum colors. "When selecting colors, we knew we wanted to add warmth to the building. However, we also had to choose colors that everyone could live with for twenty years. We didn’t want colors that were too trendy." To meet these objectives, the team chose a combination of Chestnut Brown, Bamboo Tan, and Charcoal Gray.

"Brown and gold are the main colors," Crooke explains, "especially the brown because it complements the furniture." Charcoal is used in a narrow wave of color that meanders its way down the walkway. "The charcoal contrasts with the other colors and help impart a feeling of movement," Crooke notes.

The Avenue is not only filled with color, but also with light that streams in through a trio of large skylights that were installed over the walkway. The combination of natural light and numerous live plants and trees that are placed along the walkway give the Avenue a feeling of being outdoors. The Avenue also features a number of display cases containing a constantly changing assortment of exhibits from local artists, museums and organizations.

"The Avenue of the Friends essentially functions as the visual spine of the building," library director Steiner concludes. "Everything opens off it, either to the left or right. It also serves as a marker within the library in the sense that patrons can always get their bearing no matter where they are."

Favorable Reaction by Staff and Community Alike

Steiner notes that reaction to the new facility has been excellent. "We brought the staff to the site the day after we bought it and there was a feeling of disbelief, especially as they viewed the dirt, the fluorescent lights and especially the lunch counter. Most of them, as well as most of the community, just couldn’t conceive of a facility this beautiful and this functional in that space. But it was accomplished and accomplished well."

Designer Crooke concurs. "This was one of our more challenging projects, and also one of our most rewarding, especially in regard to the integration of all the interior elements with the architecture. Being there the day the new library opened and watching the reaction of the patrons as they walked in for the first time was a real thrill."

And, judging by the increase in both services and patrons, a lot more members of the Ithaca community are walking down the Avenue of the Friends then ever before.