Workable Utopias

A Utopia of libraries and pools.

I’ve been having recurring dreams about libraries and pools–and no wonder, it’s been more than a hundred days since I stepped foot or dipped toe in either of them. I look longingly at the books in my neighborhood library safely distant behind glass. They, I am sure, miss me too.  These are places of immersive experiences–sometimes even of a trancelike nature–to swim among the books, to study and reflect while swimming, has always been a crossover experience although one more wet. But both give rise to that oceanic state–a bliss of sorts–gliding between the water and waves of words. Herman Melville knew the feeling and wrote in Moby Dick “I have swam through libraries.” Going to a library still has the thrill of jumping in the pool.

So it might not be a stretch to say, well at least for me, that libraries and pools represent utopia of a sort– a workable utopia, maybe utopias whose lessons are exportable to other venues and applications. We should extend the spatial life that they create.

Workable/Buildable Utopias

A workable utopia– this is one that doesn’t necessarily derive from theory but from emerges from practice. If I were to start with a guiding principle of these workable utopias– it would be a form of shared spatial life, a public space of endeavor and concentration that allows for protocols of discussion and action.

Pools are the more cut and dried of utopias–there are swim lanes (fast/medium/slow); no running nor diving (mostly); Circle swim when there are more than three people in a lane etc.  But it is shared–we all swim and find our place–the different bodies, old and young, healthy and fragile of every imaginable shape and proportion, all share the water and float the same.

Libraries are larger in scope– less wet, but more slippery. Libraries create the stage for the complex choreography of interaction mixing people of all ages, cultures, backgrounds, orientations share the space and share the pool of knowledge. Not only that, the libraries are not only the medium of this broadcast but content as well–the place of the library sets the tone for the protocols of knowledge sharing. One of the most stirring images of the Library as an almost holy space of learning and life of the mind and soul can be seen in Wim Wender’s film Wings of Desire, in which angels sit unseen by the side of readers and listen raptly to the Babel of their minds.

These spaces can transform libraries into engines of collaborative energy. The books and media provide the fuel, people are the sparks, but a library program space is the cylinder that pushes the piston.  It is the space where we can engage our neighbors to find common ground and work through community projects, set community policies that help plan cities and environments. The library enhanced with generous program spaces could provide a public space founded on tolerant interaction– it is not Main street, nor the community center, nor the park, nor the stadium. It is not the space for spectacles, demonstrations, or political theater.  It is a library — its silent waters run deep in tolerance, access, and communication.  As a place, libraries can serve to inspire a decency and generosity of spirit. And it is buildable.

Cupertino Library Expansion

The Cupertino Library Expansion is very small –5600 SF– tiny, you might say. EHDD was hired by the City of Cupertino to create Bridging Documents to expand the library by adding four multipurpose rooms. The library programs, many of which are initiated and run by a vigorous Library Foundation has outgrown its current spaces. Every week Children’s programs frequently overflow with two hundred plus toddlers to teens. Senior Citizen Book groups, English As a Second Language Classes frequently are to maximum capacity.  The library–a handsome and well-maintained structure built in 2004 by the architecture firm SMWM needed to grow. (Image)

Like baby teeth–the small one-story Children’s Picture Book Room that bridged across the courtyard between the east and west wings of the library, would have to be removed for the big teeth, the two-story multipurpose room addition. The new structure would further strengthen circulation between the two wings for staff while also creating a potent physical connection between the addition and courtyard for outdoor activities. The addition would also serve as an enhanced visual link from the courtyard out to the Memorial Grove of redwoods.  (image-rendering)

As of August 18, the Design-Build Team of Rodan Contractors and SVA Architects was chosen as the team to complete the construction documents and proceed into construction, projected to start in February 2021. Rodan and SVA are a formidable team bringing a deep bench of experience in design-build and library design experience. EHDD will serve as a peer reviewer for documents and during construction. We are delighted to pass the torch to this veteran team and look forward to a fruitful collaboration.

That the City of Cupertino, at the beginning of the pandemic, the city that first issued the lockdown order that the rest of the Bay Area followed, is seeing this project through, as a symbol of hope and determination, of civic service and faith in ever needed space for engagement and knowledge-seeking by and for all ages, is a light for shining. Now more than ever a Marshall Plan is needed for this country–one part should be a massive infusion of funds for libraries to expand and build more spaces for citizens to engage and reweave the frayed bonds.