New Children's Library To Encourage Experiential Learning

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 12:00 am  

The Central Arkansas Library System’s $12 million Children’s Library & Learning Center will open next month on the south side of Interstate 630, and its developers hope it will transform the surrounding neighborhoods of midtown Little Rock.

To design its 13th branch, CALS contracted in 2009 with Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock. Architect Reese Rowland, who designed many Little Rock landmarks such as the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, Acxiom Corp.’s headquarters and the Arkansas Studies Institute, was given the job of dreaming up a new landmark across the interstate from the former site of Ray Winder Field.

Rowland said the idea from the beginning was to create experiential learning through architecture. For inspiration, the design team visited places like ImaginOn, a children’s library and theater in Charlotte, N.C.; the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.; and the Houston Public Library’s teen center.

Ideas that included Disneyesque elements like castles and dinosaurs were thrown out early.

“When you take that approach for something in the same place visited over and over, you have a shelf life of two, three, four years at most,” he said.

Rowland said he drew on childhood memories of dusty sunlight filtering through the slats of his grandparents’ barn, winding forest creeks and fortresses made of crates and ladders. These themes of exploration and inspiration informed the building’s design. Two meeting rooms, for example, are cantilevered out over an open space to simulate the feeling of tree houses.

“We let the building be a teacher and create fun and interactive environments,” he said. “It’s a place where they can read and unwind and just hang out, a place that the library can sponsor programs and enhance and connect with the neighborhood as well.”

The main interior is one large room.

“We took the idea of creating a big, open box with as few columns as possible,” Rowland said. “We let the building shift to more of a trapezoid shape.”

Rowland called the building’s style “open and honest,” with exposed supports and ventilation systems, large pools of natural light and suspended ceilings.

“What you see is what you get,” he said, noting that the design could help kids understand how the building works. “It’s almost as when I was a kid and I was building with Lincoln Logs, it taught you how to put things together.”

It will also be LEED certified.



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