Austin Central Library
Achieving a playful sense of place in Austin’s flagship LEED Platinum showpiece
How do you design a LEED-supportive wayfinding program that directs, enchants, and tells a story befitting the new Austin Central Library? One of the city’s most significant public building projects, the Austin Central Library was conceived as a showpiece community center, connecting the growing downtown core with the oasis of Lady Bird Lake. fd2s was tasked with designing a wayfinding program that complements the building’s daylight-infused architecture, boosts its sustainability goals, and helps visitors navigate and revel in the multi-level interior. fd2s also conceived interactive placemaking elements that evoke a sense of play. Nearly a decade in the making, the Austin Central Library project involved expanding a sign standard for a long-time client, partnering with many collaborators, and navigating evolving ADA guidelines and street direction changes.
In achieving LEED Platinum designation, the Austin Central Library is the only library of its kind in the United States. fd2s conceived unique design solutions to help meet the project’s sustainability goals by creating elements from recyclable, exposed aluminum and working alongside the architects to fabricate an understated signage scheme that complements the flow of the building. Additionally, fd2s developed directionals that can be easily adjusted with any changes in department configurations and service offerings, enabling the wayfinding program to adapt and scale with the growing library.
As part of this project, fd2s was tasked with expanding on a sign standard we created and implemented for the Austin Public Library’s twenty-branch system over a decade ago. To accommodate the new multi-story, architecturally-significant main branch, fd2s moved beyond a more pragmatic system-wide sign strategy and created a wayfinding program that shares the spotlight with both the structure itself and its dense, urban setting. fd2s utilized the neutral palette and simple shapes from the existing standard and added playful elements, color, and consideration for how the signage would function within the flagship building.
Working in tandem with the architects, fd2s devised a signage program that not only helps visitors navigate the library complex from entrances on three sides, but is deliberately low-key to enhance the visitor’s experience of the sunlight-filled atrium. Strategically placed maps and the use of color to direct visitors to decentralized self-help kiosks help flow traffic at entrances and elevators, while large-scale exterior elements help identify and orient from a distance. There are few surfaces in the light-filled atrium, and this posed a challenge to traditional wayfinding schemes. To complement the building’s structure, fd2s fabricated curved dimensional signage that mount to cabinetry and used hanging pendants that display symbols and color for ease of identification.
One of Austin’s most prominent civic projects in decades, it was essential that the Austin Central Library be a place of discovery, for books and for the community. fd2s took a research-centered approach to placemaking throughout the various library departments and public spaces. Large, three-dimensional, interactive letters define the children’s section and function as both a department identifier and an object on which kids can climb. Scrims diffuse morning light in the reading room and also highlight literary quotes. A bike porch, complete with valet, welcomes visitors as they enter from the landscaped entrance off the hike and bike path.