It’s been a really exciting semester working with MSR Design on the feasibility study for Davidson’s “library of the future” project. As we wrap up our last meetings and await the final report from MSR, I’ve been reflecting on the importance of library programming (our services, resources, and everything we do) driving the design of the space– versus the space driving programming. It can be difficult to communicate the why of design if you do not have the programming in place to support the decisions that are being proposed. Yes, it can be challenging to get the programming up to full speed when there are space constraints that keep you from maximizing what it is you are trying to do, but it is critical to not “wait on the space” to drive the programming. Perhaps that means implementing a mini-version of what that program could “grow up to be”– as in the case of our Research & Design Studio support center or our new capsule collection initiative (small displays of curated books connected to curricular and co-curricular activities on campus). Other examples of programming driving space might be more inclusive tutoring spaces…or a reimagined welcome desk…or flexible space to support our peer-consulting program…or gathering spaces designed to support a wider range of outreach events…or spaces dedicated to showcasing student scholarship or digital resources in more engaging ways. For us, we know that quiet space is a core service of the library that students greatly value, and so a larger quiet reading room is definitely in the cards for our library of the future, as is improved back-of-house spaces for processing of library materials. These are just a few of the examples taken from the work that has been done to date from our own project. I look forward to sharing a more detailed summary of the feasibility study — and the exciting ideas proposed based on our programming needs– in the months to come.
Library of the Future Update: Meet MSR Design
Last week, I wrote about the concept of an architectural feasibility study and updated you on the “library of the future” project. I also introduced MSR Design, the award-winning Minneapolis based firm that was selected to lead the feasibility study for our project. Many in the Davidson College community have already met the MSR team through focus group work that has taken place over the last several weeks, but I thought it’d be helpful to provide a little more detail here for those who are interested.
Established in 1981, the firm has received 210 national and regional honors and awards for its design work, including 30 awards for library projects and 30 awards for the design of higher education facilities. The selection committee was impressed by the firm’s strong portfolio of projects, including over 253 library projects and 75 higher education projects including Haverford’s Visual, Culture, Arts, and Media (VCAM) Building and Carleton College’s Weitz Center for Creativity. One of the things that we noted during our interview with the team is that they really don’t have “one look” (except all of their spaces are beautiful!)– each project speaks to the needs of the community it has been designed to support, as demonstrated in this image below:
In addition to creating “transformative and human-centric, award-winning architecture and interior design” MSR Design is also the first Minnesota architecture firm to attain an International Living Future Institute “Just 2.0” label. This label provides a platform for socially just and equitable organizations to share their operations, such as transparency around employee well-being, pay equity, and financial and community investments. Most recently, the 62% women-owned firm was certified by the Women’s Business Development Center-Midwest (WBDC-Midwest), a regional certifying partner of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), as a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE).
MSR Design has created spaces in 34 states (+DC!), designing dozens of high-performing projects that put sustainability at the forefront. In addition to achieving Living Building Challenge Petal certification for their own studio space (also AWARD WINNING), they have designed over 22 LEED certified project (including two LEED Platinum certified projects).
The firm has also received an AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) Top Ten Award for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s new Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center. They’ve also developed guidelines around transparency, sustainability, and health—including a sustainability metrics template and materials action packet, both which can be downloaded from the firm’s Generative Impacts web page.
Meet the MSR Design Project Team (Library of the Future Feasibility Study)
Davidson College colleagues might recognize these friendly faces from the focus group work that has been happening across campus (and via Zoom) over the last several months. They are such a fantastic team to work with and I couldn’t be happier with the selection committee’s decision to bring them on board for the feasibility study project.
In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be working closely with the design team to complete the library of the future feasibility study. Stay tuned for updates as we visualize a brighter future for the Davidson College Library!
Library of the Future: Feasibility Study Update
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!