Heatherwick Studio unveils the design of the Lakefront Library in Maryland
This week, Studio Heatherwick unveiled preliminary renderings for its next big American project, a public library and community center with a climbable façade overlooking Lake Kitamacondi in the heart of Columbia, Maryland.
The five-story, 100,000-square-foot building, called Lakefront Library, will be the flagship library for the planned community of more than 100,000 people that was constructed starting in the 1960s by visionary developer James Ross, founder of the Ross Company.
The library will be built as a result of a collaboration between Howard County, local government and Howard Hughes Corporation, Ross’s successor as Columbia’s community developer.
Howard Hughes donated the land for the project and selected the architect. Howard County and the state of Maryland are financing the project, which is being described as a new architectural masterpiece for the segregated city located midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
The library is a key part of a comprehensive plan developed by Howard Hughes and public officials to guide the growth of downtown Columbia, including offices, shops, affordable and market-rate housing and public spaces.
The Heatherwick project will rise, fittingly, adjacent to a former landmark building in Columbia, the former Ross headquarters, designed by Frank O. Gehry & Co. (now Gehry Partners), opened in 1974. Ross, who died in 1996, was an early patron of Gehry, who also designed a fire station and outdoor concert venue, Merriweather Post Pavilion, in Columbia.
The Maryland project will be the first public library designed by London-based studio Heatherwick. The company’s other well-known American projects include the ship at Hudson Yards; The small island at Pier 55; and Google’s new campus in Bayview, California, in collaboration with BIG.
During a ceremony unveiling the design Thursday, elected officials and other civic leaders praised the project for keeping alive Ross’s vision of making Columbia a “garden for people to grow.” They said they wanted it to reflect the changing role of the public library and serve as a place of learning and a community center where people can gather for many different events and activities.
The Lakefront Library project “will serve as a transformative civic and educational center for everyone in Howard County,” said County Executive Calvin Ball. “It will be a center where arts, education and community converge. It will be a place that invokes creativity, critical thinking and compassion. The unique location at Columbia Lakefront will allow us to reconnect with nature, art and the community around us.”
The renderings show a building with cascading planting stairs weaving across the main facade, allowing visitors to climb higher and higher to enjoy views of Lake Kitamakundi, the artificial lake in the heart of the city. Viewing terraces will be decorated with native plants, providing colorful perches to enjoy the waterfront views.
The library is designed inside to accommodate educational and cultural programs, with work spaces, play areas, a makers lab, a teaching kitchen and a café. The center’s two-story atrium will provide space for public events, while offering views of the lake.
According to Stuart Wood, partner and group head at Heatherwick Studio, the architects are designing the building to be more than just a place to borrow books.
“Columbia has always been driven by a radical social vision,” Wood said in a statement. “This legacy has inspired us to develop the traditional library beyond books and into a new kind of community center for learning and social exchange more broadly. The planted, walkable building emerging from the lakeside landscape will feature an event amphitheater, play areas and light-filled rooms designed To work and learn anything from cooking to IT.This will be the community center everyone in Howard County deserves.
“The Kittamakundi Lakefront has always been the heart of Columbia. “As a community developer, we are committed to collaborative planning to provide the best spaces for all who live and visit our city,” added Greg Fitchett, president of Columbia Howard Hughes Corporation. “We are very pleased to partner with the Howard County Sheriff’s Department and library system.” And the Housing Commission for bringing this amazing community to the lakefront.”
The project budget has not been revealed. According to the architects, construction is expected to begin in late 2024 and be completed in 2027.