When Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia Neighborhood Library closed in 2004, the local neighborhood temporarily lost a vital community asset. Anacostia lies just east of its namesake river, and its downtown area, located at the intersection of Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, is recognized as a National Historic District. It was one of the first suburbs of Washington, D.C., and was home to prominent abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Predominately low income and African-American, this portion of the city’s Ward 7 also includes a high ratio of children, so parks, playgrounds, and other community venues have served an essential role in family life for many residents. However, in the 1990s, Anacostia also became widely known for its high drug trade, crime rates, and poverty. This coincided with a decline in area development. When the Anacostia Neighborhood Library, in dire need of repairs and funding for staff and operations, shut its doors amid protests in 2004, however, it was also done so with the promise to rebuild. Enter Ginnie Cooper in 2006, recruited from the Brooklyn Public Library in New York and, before that, the Multnomah County Library in Portland, Ore., to be the new D.C. chief librarian. Her charge: Set a new course for 21st century libraries in the nation’s capital. Her mandate: “Good libraries are civic and cultural centers, places where neighborhood groups hold meetings and where residents gather for special events, such as readings, speakers, or exhibits. Good library service is about providing access to information, to knowledge, to growth.1

With capital funding from the D.C. government, as well as support from then-mayor Anthony Williams, current mayor Adrian Fenty, and the city council, Cooper proceeded with the immense task of repairing and/or rebuilding many of the city’s 25 librariesbeginning with the Anacostia branch. The D.C. Library System also made a commitment to achieve LEED Silver certification, or better, for all new construction. Through an extensive RFP process, the system selected the Freelon Group, a multidisciplinary firm based in Durham, N.C., as the design architect and architect of record, along with R. McGhee & Associates as the associate architect. Freelon’s award-winning portfolio concentrates on sustainable design, particularly for museums, higher education, science and technology facilities, and libraries. “We were very intrigued that we could be a part of rebuilding the system there,” observes Zena Howard, Freelon’s associate principal and senior project manager for the Anacostia project.

A community design process, spanning several meetings in 2007 and 2008, led to final concept and schematic designs for the project. Residents’ input focused on strong security measures, community rooms, spaces for adult literacy, and places for youth to study after school. In addition, they said, the new library design should complement the existing neighborhood, with good lighting and plenty of windows that look out on green space featuring a playground, picnic tables, and benches.

The resulting $14.7 million Anacostia Neighborhood Library sits squarely on the site of the old library, surrounded by native landscaping that requires no irrigation and bordering a bioretention pond that treats rainwater runoff before it flows into the river. In the parking lot across the site from the bioretention pond, a biosaver filter under the parking lot also helps filter storm water. Overhead, a TPO white roof reflects sunlight to manage solar heat gain, while solar hot water collectors heat the water for the building. Reminiscent of the leaves of the oak trees that shade the western exposure of the building, a perforated green metal shade stretches out to connect the library’s pavilions, which were scaled with the surrounding neighborhood residences in mind, and also filters daylight to the spaces below.

Exterior glazing and multiple skylights fill the interior with daylight; occupancy sensors, daylight sensors, and automatic dimming controls regulate energy use. Expansive 17-foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows crafted with low-E glass offer views for 90 percent or more of regularly occupied spaces. The designers also specified recycled and regionally produced materials for the building’s construction, including content in steel, masonry, glass, and concrete. Low-VOC finishes, along with high-grade filters and CO2 sensors in the HVAC systems help to improve indoor air quality. Rounding out Freelon’s design, low-flow fixtures, dual-flush toilets, and waterless urinals reduce water usage for sewage by 49.2 percent, and combined energy strategies result in 24.5 percent greater efficiency versus a comparable baseline building.

With a grand opening celebration in April, residents welcomed the new Anacostia Library, which now includes conference rooms; study rooms; a public meeting room that can hold up to 100 people; more than 40,000 books, CDs, and DVDs; 40 computers accessible to the public; free Wi-Fi Internet access; and public art by Ward 7based artists. Special attention also is given to children’s programs and collections dedicated to various age groups, as well as areas for young adults to congregate.

Even with all of the sustainable attributes, Howard is most proud of the library’s new role as a civic presence. “This area, even with its significant history and strong sense of community and children, still represented probably one of the most challenged neighborhoods in which we’ve worked,” she says. “But together with residents, we were able to make this building so easy to use and comfortable while integrating it architecturally, socially, respectfully into its surroundingstruly a place to read, grow, and educate.”

David R. Macaulay is the author of Integrated Design: Mithun and the blog Green ArchiTEXT, greenarchitext.com. To view a slide show of the Anacostia Branch Library, visit eco-structure.com.

1. Public Hearing, Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation, Bill 16-734, the “Library Transformation Act of 2006”, June 15, 2006. rrc.dc.gov/rrc/lib/rrc/GC_LTA_Testimony_6_15_06_FINAL.pdf


Architect, interior designer: The Freelon Group, freelon.com, Philip G. Freelon, principal in charge, Zena Howard, senior project manager, Michael Rantilla, project architect, and Kathryn Taylor, interior designer; in association with R. McGhee & Associates, rmc-architects.com

Client, owner: District of Columbia Public Library, dclibrary.org

Mechanical engineer: John J. Christie & Associates, johnjchristie.com

Structural engineer: Stewart Engineering, stewart-eng.com

Electrical engineers: John J. Christie & Associates; Setty & Associates Ltd., setty.com

Civil engineer: Delon Hampton & Associates, delonhampton.com

Geotechnical engineer: Professional Consulting Corp., professionalconsulting.com

Construction manager: Hill International, hillintl.com

General contractor: Forrester Construction Co., forresterconstruction.com

Landscape architect: Lappas + Havener, lhpa-nc.com

Lighting designer, daylighting consultant: Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design, hlblighting.com

Energy modeling: EMSI


Acoustical system: Draper, draperinc.com

Adhesives, coatings, and sealants: Pecora Corp., pecora.com; Dow, dow.com

Appliances: GE Appliances, geappliances.com

Building management systems and services: Johnson Controls, johnsoncontrols.com

Carpet: Shaw Industries Group, shawfloors.com

Ceilings: Armstrong

Cladding: Morin, morincorp.com

Curtain walls: EFCO

Exterior wall systems: Georgia-Pacific, gp.com; Bakor, bakor.com

Flooring: Armstrong; Davis Colors, daviscolors.com; Haworth, haworth.com

Furniture: Izzy+, izzyplus.com; Knoll, knoll.com; Vitra, vitra.com; Stylex, stylexseating.com; Bernhardt Furniture Co., bernhardt.com; KI, ki.com; Spacesaver, spacesaver.com

Glass: JE Berkowitz, www.jeberkowitz.com

HVAC: York, york.com; Johnson Controls; Titus, titus-hvac.com; A.O. Smith Corp., aosmith.com

Insulation: Johns Manville; Dow

Interior walls: National Gypsum Co., nationalgypsum.com

Lighting control systems: Lutron Electronics Co., lutron.com

Lighting: Sistemalux, sistemalux.com; Pace Lighting, pacelighting.com; Spring City, springcity.com; Hydrel, hydrel.com; Lightolier, lightolier.com; Prudential Lighting, prulite.com; Selux, selux.com

Masonry, concrete, and stone: Ernest Maier Block, emcoblock.com

Metal: M.R. Metals, mrmetalsinc.com

Millwork: Columbia Woodworking, cwwcorp.com; 3Form, 3-form.com

Paints and finishes: ICI Paints, icipaints.com

Plumbing and water systems: Toto USA, totousa.com; American Standard, americanstandard.com; Sloan Valve Co., sloanvalve.com; Kohler Co., kohler.com; Elkay Manufacturing Co., elkay.com; Acorn Engineering Co., acornengineering.com; Delta Faucet Co., deltafaucet.com; Dayton; Zurn, zurn.com; Bobrick; Excel Dryer, exceldryer.com

Renewable energy systems (excluding photovolatics): Solar Skies, solarskies.com

Roofing: Firestone Building Products, www.firestonebpco.com

Signage: Anderson Krygier, andersonkrygier.com

Site and landscape products: HessAmerica, hessamerica.com; Concord Industries, concordindustries.com

Structural systems: Canatal Industries, canatal.net

Wallcoverings: Onix, onixmosaic.com; Aarco Products, aarcoproducts.com

Windows and doors: Eggers Industries, eggersindustries.com; de La Fontaine, www.delafontaine.com; EFCO; Wasco Skylights, wascoskylights.com