Palo Alto Mitchell Park Library and Community Center


57,000 SF


Santa Clara County community


10 October 2014


The City’s clear vision of its sustainable community future is celebrated in the Center, a 57,000 square foot, $32.2 million new destination for civic, cultural, educational, social, and recreational experiences for all ages. The project advances all of the community’s principles of sustainability:

Social equity – The Center facilitates an innovative new service and operations model that leverages partnerships to enhance quality of life for the whole community.

Economy – The Center embodies the community’s entrepreneurial spirit, providing inspiring and technology-rich spaces in which users can collaborate, work, learn, share, and discover.

Environment – The LEED Platinum project not only incorporates, but also strives to educate the community about strategies to conserve resources, protect ecosystems, and enhance the human experience.

Hundreds participated in the design process, ensuring that the architecture both builds on the community’s shared history, and advances its vision of a vibrant, inclusive, and sustainable future.

Design Excellence. The new Center supports an innovative new partnership between the City’s Library and Community Services departments. The previous library and community center facilities sat adjacent to each other in a vital community park, but otherwise reflected the 20th century concept that Library and Community Services are discrete agencies with separate missions. In the early 2000s the City developed an innovative “omni-channel” vision of enhancing community service through a strong inter-agency partnership. The City sought to build a new joint-use facility to support this sustainable vision, which was enthusiastically supported by the community.

The new, significantly larger facility is designed to be operated without a significant increase in staff. Conceptually, the Center’s design is a Venn diagram, providing library and community center wings with classrooms and large group activity spaces in the “overlap.” These shared spaces reduced building program duplication as well as overall building size. Each wing, as well as individual shared activity spaces, can be operated independently for maximum service, flexibility, and operational efficiency.

The Center’s orientation, massing, and articulation create a civic presence along the street, engaging visitors with strong forms and natural materials – including a “living wall” with a planting pattern that echoes the mountains beyond, and a distinctively massive, yet impossibly delicate stone sculpture. The Center’s connection to the park side is gentler, beckoning to visitors with lush landscaping and an array of human-scaled spaces, such as an outdoor sport court surrounded by flowering vines. A strong roof canopy at the Center’s entry plaza draws visitors from both the street and the park, where they are greeted by a row of whimsical stainless steel owl sculptures.

Visitors experience the Center as a vibrant, dynamic place filled with light and color. Large expanses of glass rise out of rose-colored stone to link earth and sky. Strong forms and bold rooflines are tempered with playful innovations such as living walls and a colorful “solar veil.” Soaring roofs inspire a sense of awe and wonder while respecting the scale and character of the surrounding neighborhood. A heritage oak tree – whose preservation became an important focal point and organizing element for the design – provides shade and filters dappled light into the building interior.

Positive Environmental Impact. Sustainability is both the focus and the underpinning of every aspect of the design, which strives for community education as well as high performance. The project targets LEED Platinum through strategies such as night-sky radiant cooling, vegetated roofs, photovoltaics, tracking skylights, natural ventilation, sensor-activated lighting, pervious paving, and extensive use of FSC-certified, low-VOC, locally-produced, and recycled-content materials. The design celebrates and showcases many of these sustainable elements – for example, outdoor terraces provide close observation and even direct access to the green roofs. Visitors can use treasure hunt-style game cards to explore the site and buildings, searching for “ecoglyphics” keyed to information about habitat, water, energy, materials, and more.

Technical Excellence. The design process was highly collaborative. The design process included multiple collaborative workshops with the design team, consultants, and client representatives to incorporate innovative and proven design strategies and systems for a high-performance, sustainably-designed Center.

The new Center represents more than a decade of community-based planning. A citywide library facilities master plan in the mid-2000s established the vision for the project and laid the groundwork for a successful voter-approved ballot measure to fund construction. Hundreds of community members participated in public meetings and workshops, and the project was presented publicly dozens of times to boards, commissions, and City leadership. The community is eagerly awaiting the grand opening of the Center, which is scheduled for December 2014.