With the opening of the Linda Sokol Francis Brookfield Library this week – do yourself a favor and swing by either sometime this week or during the grand opening they’re planning for July 31 – we kept returning to one thought.
Thank heavens that referendum didn’t pass in 2016.
In the immediate aftermath of the referendum defeat, library officials were distraught. They’d spent months trying to engage with residents at workshops, open houses and personally to convince them to pass a $10.3 million referendum that would result in a new library at 3541 Park Ave.
Even before the referendum push, four years earlier, the library board had gone through an absolute slog trying to get the design approved – a very large, not particularly striking 38,000-square-foot edifice with vaguely Prairie-style massing and elements that would have faced Lincoln Avenue.
Apart from a much larger meeting room, which is also a feature of the library just built, we can’t think of another interior design detail from that 2012 design that stood out. The exterior was conventional, a brick pile with small windows and a bulky stair tower whose singular design element was a vertical ribbon of opaque glass block.
The design was eventually approved by the village board, but no one appeared particularly enthusiastic about it, though library officials certainly were relieved the approval ordeal was over.
When the referendum failed four year later, it at first seemed like all of that work had gone for naught. In fact, those years were a valuable learning experience. Without a referendum to sell, library officials could concentrate on creating a facility to serve the contemporary idea of what a library is.
Where the first design looked a lot like a dull, institutional building that held books, the design of the Linda Sokol Francis Brookfield Library is exuberant, inviting. Libraries have changed a lot since 2012, and the kind of programming and technological offerings they now routinely provide were just beginning to reveal themselves a decade ago.
Much like the old library built in the 1980s on a shoestring because library officials believed voters wouldn’t fund a more expensive facility, the 2012 design would have seemed outdated by now.
The spaces in the new building are flexible and architects had in mind possible future expansion when they set out to design what was built. The building’s very contemporary design may be a bit much for those who prefer more traditional architecture.
But, this design is far preferable to the more traditional scheme of 2012 and sets a precedent for future institutional buildings in Brookfield to break free from the Colonial shackles of past.
This is a welcome new addition to Brookfield and congratulations to the library board on their perseverance and openness to a design that, as architect Dan Pohrte said, “Took chances.”
Enjoy your new library, Brookfield.