This week Heatherwick Studio unveiled preliminary designs for its next major American project, a public library and community center with a “climbable facade,” overlooking Lake Kittamaqundi in the heart of Columbia, Maryland.
The five-level, 100,000-square-foot building, called the Lakefront Library, will be the main library for the planned community of more than 100,000 that was constructed starting in the 1960s by visionary developer James Rouse, founder of The Rouse Company.
The library will be built as the result of a collaboration between Howard County, the local government, and the Howard Hughes Corporation, the successor to The Rouse Company as the community developer of Columbia.
Howard Hughes donated the land for the project and selected the architect. Howard County and the State of Maryland are funding the project, which is being touted as a new architectural centerpiece for the unincorporated city halfway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
The library is a key part of a comprehensive plan that Howard Hughes and public officials have developed to guide the growth of downtown Columbia, including offices, stores, affordable and market-rate housing, and public spaces.
Heatherwick’s project will rise, fittingly, close to an earlier signature building in Columbia, the former Rouse Company headquarters, designed by Frank O. Gehry and Associates (now Gehry Partners), and opened in 1974. Rouse, who died in 1996, was an early patron of Gehry, who also designed a fire station and an outdoor concert venue, the Merriweather Post Pavilion, in Columbia.
The Maryland project will be the first public library designed by the London-based Heatherwick Studio. Other well-known U.S. projects by the firm include the Vessel in Hudson Yards; Little Island at Pier 55; and Google’s new campus in Bay View, California, in collaboration with BIG.
During an unveiling ceremony for the design on Thursday, elected officials and other civic leaders hailed the project for keeping alive Rouse’s vision of making Columbia “a garden for growing people.” They said they wanted it to reflect the changing role of the public library and serve as both a place for learning and a community hub where people can gather for many different events and activities.
The Lakefront Library project “will serve as a transformative civic and educational center for all in Howard County,” said County Executive Calvin Ball. “It will be a hub where the arts, education, and community converge. It will be a place that evokes creativity, critical thinking, and compassion. The unique location at the Columbia Lakefront will allow us to re-connect with nature, art, and the community around us.”
Renderings show a building with cascading planted staircases that weave across the primary facade, enabling visitors to climb higher and higher for views toward Lake Kittamaqundi, the manmade lake at the heart of town. Viewing terraces will be accented with native plants, providing colorful perches to take in views of the waterfront.
Inside, the library is designed to accommodate educational and cultural programs, with work spaces, play areas, a makers’ lab, teaching kitchen and café. A double-story atrium in the center will provide a setting for public events, while offering framed views of the lake.
According to Stuart Wood, partner and group leader at Heatherwick Studio, the architects are designing the building to be much more than a place to borrow books.
“Columbia has always been driven by a socially radical vision,” Wood said in a statement. “This legacy inspired us to evolve the traditional library beyond books and into a new type of community center for broader learning and social exchange. A walkable, planted building that emerges from the lakeside landscape will house an amphitheater for events, play areas and light filled rooms designed for working and learning anything from cooking to IT. This will be the community center everyone in Howard County deserves.”
“The Kittamaqundi Lakefront has long been the heart of Columbia. As the community developer, we are committed to collaborative planning to provide the very best spaces to all who live and visit our town,” added Howard Hughes Corporation, Columbia President Greg Fitchitt. “We are more than thrilled to partner with Howard County’s administration, library system, and housing commission to bring this incredible community anchor to the lakefront.”
A budget for the project has not been disclosed. According to the architects, construction is expected to start by late 2024 and be complete in 2027.