Books, history and a modern sensibility

09/16/2010 12:00 AM |

The privilege and responsibility of adapting historic buildings to our contemporary needs is one of the most thoughtful challenges architects face today.

Historic buildings serve as an anchor in the passage of time and the preservation of them is vital to maintaining historic continuity of a community. Buildings of special significance and prominence — owing to a variety of factors such as period of construction, dignity of design, location and evolution of function — become special landmarks. Such is the case with the bank building located on Main Road that Southold Free Library currently occupies in the heart of the village.

As the architects selected by the library board to provide a much-needed expansion of their facility, we welcome that challenge. Architecture is a process that results in change, especially when an historic icon is part of the project. For the expansion design, our approach is based upon a philosophy of celebration and accommodation of the historic structure through preservation, ensuring its prominence of place and the maintenance of its original form and architectural character.

We have researched the buildings of George Skidmore of Riverhead, the original architect, and studied his influences. He traveled widely, observing prominent buildings of his time (his bank building was constructed during the same period as Carnegie Hall) and incorporated elements of form, embellishment and construction technology that represented the best of that era, as he had observed.

The design proposed for the library addition is informed by this background of historic investigation of the original building, an analysis of the design opportunities presented by the expanded site, the immediate and projected functional needs of the library and the goal of providing an addition that represents the design and construction technology of today.

By avoiding replication of the historic building in order to preserve its integrity, the proposed design defers to it through the utilization of a recessed, light-weight transitional form, the recessed location of the new south entrance, utilization of brick to match the original building and window details that reference the original brick faÃßade. The translucent atrium is designed as a counterpoint to introduce natural light deeply within the building core, allowing the original east faÃßade of the building to enjoy prominence within the expansion interior.

Materials proposed are those that represent today’s technological developments, including recycled content, improved energy performance and environmental sustainability. Roofs of the proposed expansion are engineered to utilize planted material to reduce water runoff, provide increased insulation value for the spaces below, reduce reflected light to the sky and result in exterior gardens of low-maintenance plant materials immediately flanking upper level interior spaces.

The expansion is designed to utilize the site potential for direct vehicular access, vastly increased parking, preservation of selected existing landscape elements, pedestrian access and the development of the main floor as the primary entrance, incorporating underutilized space in the existing building.

The design has recently received favorable comment from the Southold Architectural Review Board at the design development phase, with authorization to proceed to final design documents. Particular focus of the review was the strategy of preservation of the original building by the siting of the addition, the implementation of materials and details that reference the originals and the avoidance of historic duplication and reproduction in the design of the addition. Utilization of translucent and transparent materials to introduce natural light into the core of the building were presented and deemed functionally and aesthetically appropriate.

The design proposed has received full endorsement of the library’s Board of Trustees as appropriate for its accommodation of existing and growing numbers of patrons, embracement of new technology and evolution in servicing the expanding needs of the Southold community.

Mr. Jacquemin and Mr. Stromski are registered architects with offices in Riverhead.