Renovating for Play

In 1985, Houston’s Collier Library opened its doors for the first time to its Oak Forest patrons. When the building at 6200 Pinemont Drive once again opened its doors in 2011, the library had undergone a full interior renovation by the local firm Brave Architecture. The Collier Library is the third in a series of joint-venture renovations by Brave and the Houston Public Library that are creating a standard for future rehabilitations of libraries throughout the city.

The 12,000-sf renovation was prompted by an outdated aesthetic and lack of overall functionality. Working within the existing footprint, Brave executed minimal, judicious interventions to redefine the library spatially, establishing distinct areas for a variety of age groups through the use of new partitions and specialized branding.

The radial arrangement expands out from the welcome desk at the center of the plan, a position which eases staff monitoring while providing a central location to cater to each group area. A minimally invasive series of glass partitions enforces the radial plan, and supporting super graphics and color strategies identify the distinct adult, teen, and kid sections. The color code — blue for the Adult Area, red for the Teen Area, and white for the Kid Area — is enhanced by etched glass signage labeling each space.

Brave tailored each area for the specific user group. Thoughtful detail defines the furniture, color, millwork, signage, scale, and spatial layout of the three sections.

The Adult Area adheres to more conventional library features: Chair and table heights are standard, and there are several bays of computers and numerous tall stacks filled with books. But Brave designed the Teen and Kid areas with a contemporary audience in mind. Vibrant red and blue partitions enclose this space, an ode to a generation defined by technology and social interaction. Adorned with

fewer stacks and more computer stations, the Teen Area has sleek furnishings with a variety of seating accommodations that range from paired high-chair tables to casual low-slung lounge sofas, which appeal to teenagers who embrace the evolving definition of how a library should look and feel.  

Walking along the entry corridor toward the welcome desk, guests are immediately drawn to an area that can most adequately be described as for play — the Kids Area. Bold-colored furniture enlivens the space while also helping to identify distinct activity areas — different hues mark areas for reading, sitting, and exploring. Houston-based artist Bree Wristers — better known as BREE “The Mural Girl” — was brought on by Brave to paint an anamorphic typology that inspires readers of all ages to further investigate the world of their imagination through reading. The text painted on the library wall bleeds onto a wooden cubby installation, which was purposefully left empty and reads differently depending on one’s vantage point, ultimately reinforcing a childhood sense of wonder and discovery.

While elements of the existing building and previous library design, such as the wooden ceiling and grid of fluorescent lightings, remain, the collaborative interventions made by Brave Architecture and Houston Public Library have created a newly invigorated space, which not only to serves as a model for future library rehabilitations, but also embraces design solutions for the evolving needs and desires of contemporary libraries.

Charlotte Friedley is the communications specialist for the Texas Society of Architects.

This article is "More Online" content for the May/June 2014 issue of Texas Architect.