For more than a year, the Library of the Future Task Force worked closely with the Davidson College community to understand the current practices and needs of our users. This extensive work resulted in an 88-page report outlining a new vision for the future of the Davidson College Library. In January 2020, the Library of the Future Task Force presented this vision for the future library to the campus community (see this post for a recap). We then organized a committee to identify an architectural firm to lead a feasibility study for the project. For those of you unfamiliar with building projects: a feasibility study is an exercise to understand and refine the programmatic needs of a project, culminating in conceptual design work that describes needs, relationships, and space requirements. These deliverables are critical to understanding what is possible within the existing building structure, how much a project will cost, and to generate institutional and funding support. The task force put forth a strong vision for the future of the library: the feasibility study helps us to understand what this vision might actually look like within the space (and share this visualization with stakeholders and generate support!).
Picking an architectural firm sounds easy enough, right? The committee quickly discovered that choosing an architectural firm is no easy task. There are many firms out there that work within higher education, and our goal was to select a firm that not only had experience around the unique needs of libraries (along with an inspiring portfolio, of course) but also shared Davidson’s values. I set to work by reaching out for advice from library directors who had led recent building projects and then researching relevant library projects and firms. This work helped us to develop an initial list of over twenty firms, which we narrowed down to our “top 10” through further research. We then invited these firms to interview with us so that we could learn more about their abilities, vision, and values.
We didn’t want these interviews to simply be a showcase of past projects or to be Davidson-specific. In the invitation letter sent to each firm, we listed a few things we hoped to hear about during the 60-minute interview:
1. Background of the firm:
- Please introduce us personally to the key architectural personnel who will be on our project.
- As efficiently as possible, please convey your firm’s experience with the design of library facilities on other College and University Campuses.
- Please address how your firm supports diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- In the presentation of that experience, please identify those projects with LEED certification.
2. Insight into your design process, abilities, and vision by use of an example:
- Please select one of your library designs and be prepared to explain it in detail. In such, please convey the existing conditions you initially found, the project goals as they were communicated to you, the parameters that you were given as initial assumptions, the process by which you shaped and crafted a designed product, your approach to the project in relationship to collaboration and consensus, the design, the pros and cons of the facility on opening day, and anything else you see as fundamental to the product.
- Please discuss how you combined aesthetics and functionality in realizing the campus’s vision and building program.
- Please talk about ways that you incorporated inclusive or universal design into your product.
- Then, predict for us how libraries will be utilized, and specifically how that same example above will accommodate such, 25 years into the future.
In addition, we asked each firm to share specifics about strategy for the project, including their range of fees for the feasibility study and a forecast of design fees if the project moves to the next phase (fingers crossed). The interview process really gave us amazing insight into how each firm operated and allowed the committee members to identify their top three candidates through a rating process. The committee further deliberated, spoke with references, and eventually selected our top candidate.
This is all to say, that I’m excited to share with you that we selected MSR Design to lead the feasibility study for our library of the future. The committee selected MSR Design because of their impressive work with libraries and focus on sustainability, equity, and designing for generative impacts. In a future post, I’ll spend more time introducing you to the firm and our progress to date!