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61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995

Building and Renovating for the 21st Century: Experience From a New Project Applied to Updating an Obsolete Library

Joanne R. Euster, Ph.D., University Librarian, University of California, Irvine, U.S.A.
Cynthia Ripley, A.I.A., Principle in charge of University and Library Design, Bull, Stockwell, Allen and Ripley, San Francisco, U.S.A.


This paper describes briefly one university planning environment and how environment and experience affect subsequent library building planning. The initial section describes the University of Calif ornia, the Irvine campus and its libraries, and the University planning and budgeting environment. Following that, the planning process for renovation and earthquake retrofitting of the Irvine campu s main library is described, as well as design solutions and compromises made in order to meet budget constrains. Construction planning in order to continue to utilize collections and services is de scribed briefly. Finally, recommendations are made for a successful remodeling project: substantial contingency budget, continuity of personnel involved, flexibility and openness to change on the p art of the institution and the architects, and continuous communication during all stages of the project.


The vast majority of college and university academic buildings in the United States were either built or remodeled during the period of rapid growth and expansion in American higher education that occurred after World War II. The base upon which this expansion occurred had been put in place during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth, when the model of what we now think of as the modern university developed. The scientific method of inquiry became widely accepted, the model of higher education as preparation for the ministry was largely abandoned, federal funding was made available to support the so-called "land grant" colleges and universities, and enrollments accelerated rapidly. So too did construction and growth of academic libraries, and many of the landmark library buildings of that era are still in use, in various stages of adaptation to the knowledge age. Many were updated — not always with happy results, aesthetically — during the post-war era of the 1950's and 60's. New campuses were being added at a prodigious rate, in order to meet the demand of skyrocketing enrollments, which nationally had reached 5 million by 1965 and more than 12 million by 1985.

The libraries of both periods of expansion — those built on either side of the turn of the 20th century, and those built during the decades of post-war optimism, population growth, and economic boom — now find themselves sadly outdated at the end of this century. They were built well before computers, networks and the economic value of information and knowledge had taken over our lives. Many have been modernized in a variety of ways, but the continuing challenge is how to update currently existing libraries, as well as construct new ones, with the flexibility to prevent untimely obsolescence in only a score of years or less.

The University of California, comprised of nine campuses, is specifically assigned responsibility for graduate education at the doctoral level in publicly supported higher education in California, and is considered the research university as well. Berkeley, the oldest of the campuses, was established under the land grant provisions more than 100 years ago. The last of the campuses were founded in the mid-1960's. A tenth campus is planned, but is not likely to come into being until after the turn of the next century.

UCI, the University of California, Irvine, was one of the last campuses established, opening its doors to students in September 1965, thirty years ago. The City of Irvine was founded as a planned community at the same time, so that both the campus and the city grew up together, developing from rolling southern California farmland into complementary planned community and campus. Indeed, the same architect, William L. Pereira & Associates, was commissioned to develop master plans for both. The comprehensive long range development plan was based on the intent that the campus would develop over time from an initial enrollment of approximately 1000 up to planned maximum enrollment of 27,500 in 1990.

The campus design consists of six "quadrangles" arranged in a radial fashion around the central core of open space, now a forested outdoor park where commencement and other festive events take advantage of the mild and sunny climate of coastal southern California. The quadrangles, which continue to more or less conform to the original plan, are grouped by academic discipline. The entire campus is tied together by the "ring mall," which intersects all but the fine arts and (a later addition) health sciences complex, as well as linking to both the main library and the newly-completed science library. Campus traffic is primarily pedestrian and by bicycle. A key planning decision was made to eschew any attempt to recreate the "ivy-covered halls" of earlier American campuses, and instead to emphasize

Southern California's unique natural characteristics, its Mediterranean climate, and perhaps most distinctively, postmodern architecture. Pereira himself designed many of the earliest buildings, including the main library. Well-known names now represented on the campus include Robert Venturi, Frank Gehry, Lawrence Halprin, R.L. Binder, Arthur Erickson, and Skidmore Ownings & Merrill.

What of the libraries? The campus has long since outgrown the original main library, which, with additions constitutes some 135,000 net square feet. Four small branch libraries were replaced by the new consolidated science library was completed in 1994; at 131,000 net square feet it is the largest combined science and medical library in California. Designed by James Stirling and Michael Wilford, its striking design received an A.I.A./A.L.A. award in 1995. UCI's academic programs, research and enrollment are heavily oriented toward the sciences, although there are areas of significant distinction in the social sciences, arts and humanities. In consequence, the decision was made to concentrate all sciences in one center, located on the ring mall and adjacent to the biological and physical sciences quads, and in close proximity to engineering, computer science and the health sciences complex as well. Key centralized library functions, notably technical services and computing systems, also are located in the science library. This plan complements the main library, which now serves primarily the humanities, arts, social sciences, management, and the general user, and accommodates the libraries' central administration. The School of Social Ecology, established in 1992, relies on both libraries, although it is close by the main library. The only other library in the UCI system is the small hospital library some 14 miles away from the main campus.

The science library was planned in the late 1980's and includes extensive cabling and wiring to accommodate electronic technology, as well as facilities for computerized teaching and learning. The main library, which was one of the very first constructed on the campus, suffers from three decades of additions and alterations, and serious deficiencies in both the technological infrastructure and the service plan to accommodate the era of the virtual library. It is essentially a 6 story box. As such, it is a relatively efficient structure, but the majority of each floor is distant from windows and daylight. Computerized information services are widely used, but must rely on often unsightly cobbled-together cabling and wiring.

It is rare, we believe, that a library has the opportunity to engage in both construction of a major new facility and the remodeling of a significant older building within the spans of less than three years. Indeed, the main library renovation, planned for 1996, was already in design well before the science library opened its doors. Larger libraries may have library planners or even a library architect on staff. UCI, as a mid-size publicly-funded campus, does not have that luxury, and relies on the central campus Design and Construction Services, and its cadre of planners and architects. Few librarians are likely to engage in multiple major building projects during their careers, and such is the case at UCI. Accordingly, we set out to apply the lessons from the science library project as thoroughly as possible to the planning for renovation of the main library.

What had we learned? Above all, that continuity in personnel is important. With nearly all of the key players from the outset gone from the University by the final year, a senior member of library staff was assigned to oversee the remaining months. Good communication is vital; personnel change, memories vary and are short, comments are interpreted as decisions and vice-versa. The library project manager instituted regular news bulletins to compensate. It is not possible to assume anything. As example, librarians know that a loan desk requires cupboards and drawers, yet the expensive custom casework did not include them. Be both detailed and specific. Building flexibility is essential. Beautful as it is, the bu ilding's unusual footprint and the large amount of custom casework in the service desks and carrels by opening day had already required a number of awkward and expensive work-arounds to function properly. More will be required as organizational and technological change continue. Trust your architect, but don't expect him or her to be a mind-reader. Keep the communication channels simple and clear.

The way in which the University of California implements projects largely explains both the successes and missed opportunities that the project has encountered. Campus academic departments determine need and request expansion projects. However, the documentation and construction are handled by Design and Construction Services. The campus administration funnels its building proposals to the central administration of the nine campus system, which in turn refers the request to the state government, accountable to ever more vigilant taxpayers.

Planning occurs in four well defined phases:

  1. programming and concept studies,
  2. schematic design and design development,
  3. construction documents, and
  4. bidding and construction.
The goals and scope of the project are defined during phase one and the funds are approved for expenditure some four or more years later. It is not uncommon, therefore, for anywhere from six to ten years to elapse from initial conception to completion. If the circumstances change during the life of the project the scope may also change, yet it is nearly impossible to obtain new funding once the initial budget has been established. The library encountered this very circumstance and many opportunities had to be bypassed as a result. The cardinal lesson of remodeling major buildings is this: until the project is well understood and possibly even until the building is under construction, the full extent of the requirements cannot be discovered. Therefore, from the point of view of the architects and the final occupants of the building, if the budget is fixed near the beginning of the project, a generous contingency is highly desirable—perhaps as much as one-third of the estimated construction cost— to allow for unforeseen conditions that will inevitably occur. This, however, is most assuredly not the point of view of state funding agencies and project managers, to whom minimizing cost and bringing the project in on or below budget are paramount.

Because the new science library was to be completed before the main library remodel, planners anticipated consolidating science collections into it, releasing space in the main library to function as surge space during the remodel. Only cosmetic and functional renovation was anticipated, although that changed during the planning period. Accordingly, the plan was to renovate one area at a time in a series of smaller projects, which while disruptive was felt to be a cost effective approach to the renovation. Construction was expected to cost US$ 3.1 million, plus another $700,000 to provide appropriate infrastructure to support the electronic resources. After a one-year funding delay, the project was ready to move forward.

By the time the firm of Bull, Stockwell Allen & Ripley was engaged to complete the design, several important changes were already required. Seismic structural codes in California were more rigorous. The library was rated "poor" seismically, and with more than 1 million people entering the building annually, it was apparent that seismic reconstruction was essential. Information technology and telecommunications in higher education and in libraries had changed dramatically, and it was now understood that change would continue at an accelerated pace. Further change was introduced by the additional year of funding delays, changes in the Federal requirements for handicapped access, and appointment of both a new campus head librarian and a new campus architect. The architectural contract went to a different firm than had done the initial feasibility and cost studies. Indeed, at this point none of the original key decision makers were still involved.

It quickly became apparent that neither the initial program nor the budget were now adequate, in spite of an augmentation from the State, and it would be necessary to divert a substantial portion of the budget from the functional and cosmetic modifications to a far more expensive structural strengthening. The first effort, architecturally, was to design an earthquake strengthening approach that would minimize disruption. The plan now calls for stiffening only around the stair and elevator towers. Nevertheless, stiffening will now consume about 40% of the total construction and telecommunications budget. Early on it was determined that the most dramatic architectural gesture to improve the overall appearance of the building would be maximize both the sylvan view and daylight from windows on all floors, as a simple but effective aesthetic antidote to the monotonous appearance of the flat ceiling and the square building configuration.

Meanwhile the new campus librarian had assessed the plans and determined that the remodeled library needed to provide greater ease of access for users and to promote staff consolidation. The library elevators, although newly renovated, were not adequate for the heavy traffic load, with resulting lengthy waits, that could be alleviated by opening up clear paths and views to the stair towers to encourage their use. The most frequently used collections and functions would be located on the ground floor — periodicals, circulation and its staff as well as the electronic bibliographic classroom and the faculty and graduate student reading room, a new service. The ground floor would also now accommodate a hospitable lobby with a few lounge chairs, exhibit area, and readily accessible electronic directory of library services replacing a staffed information desk.

The lower floor was devoted to Reference and Government Publications departments which were asked to merge their point of contact into a single shared desk. This staffing concept allowed the notion of private offices for longer reference consultations to be incorporated into the plan. A large staffed special electronic resources area is also included for use of students and faculty doing in-depth computerized research, utilizing multimedia materials and at work developing their own materials.

As you can see (slide) the appearance of the existing building is not particularly distinguished; additionally, it shows a great deal of wear and tear. With the brand new science library, designed by an internationally renowned firm, the conceptual goal had been to provide equal amenity in the remodeled facility. With the greatly reduced budget, these expectations were lowered as well. Instead, strategies for improving the building's appearance would have to be clever, targeted and cost effective.

First, we decided to use very plain and simple materials throughout and to concentrate on a few bold gestures, particularly at those points where staff and users meet — colored wood, fine materials, changes to ceiling specialty lighting. Secondly, we determined that a good, long wearing carpet would have great impact providing sound control on the large open floors and creating a plane of color and comfort to balance the low flat ceiling. Third, we opened up the warren of little rooms so that views to the outdoors could be enjoyed even from the center of the floor. Among the goals for the project was providing better security for materials and improving offices and work areas. To address both of these objectives a system of walls with clear glass in the upper portion was developed so that privacy and security could be achieved without blocking daylight.

The distribution systems and outlet locations for telecommunications anticipate presented special challenges. Ideally, the budget and scope of architectural work includes the carrels, casework, the office partitions and other systems so that power, data and telecommunications can be seamlessly integrated directly into the design.

However, the lack of custom casework funding and the library's desire for greater future flexibility allowed for only some of these solutions. Integration of data at custom designed service desks was not a problem, but it was necessary to find alternate means to handle other data and telecommunications systems. Though-floor data/telecommunications devices are expensive and complex, so that their use is best kept to a minimum. Instead, strategically placed low-height walls were proposed to receive power and data from nearby existing columns or via floor access points, but to minimize use of through-floor devices. The balance of the library patron telecommunications interface would be made up of tables and counters with surface raceways and purchase of new classroom tables with built-in raceways.

With a seismic solution that includes extensive structural repairs and the resultant noise and dust, the original assumption that construction work could continue while the library remained in operation was now seriously in question. However, widespread student and faculty concern at the prospect of closure of the library for a 9 month construction period caused that plan to be reassessed. A new plan was developed to include strategies for phasing construction and allowing partial occupation of the building during all but the summer months. In the first phase, the library will be closed for three months during the summer to staff and patrons while all of the highly disruptive seismic work is completed by two shifts of work crews. Temporary dust partitions will be erected to protect the existing collections on the same floors.

Phase 2 will last 4 - 6 months, during which the basement, 3rd, 4th, and 5th levels will be open to patrons while work is concentrated on the 1st and 2nd levels, where the programmatic changes are centered.

Further details were deleted as budget and plans were reconciled. The glass separation between the current periodicals reading room and the main lobby was eliminated and reduced to a low wall. The carpet was replaced by the least expensive durable floor available in the US — vinyl tile. These and other amenities will be included in the contractor bidding process as additions and alternates if funding allows. Turning a downgraded feature into a design advantage, the striking vinyl floor pattern defines areas of use by laying individual tiles in a strong pattern for both aesthetic reasons and to define circulation pathways for users to find their way to elevators and stairs.

The project, all are agreed, has suffered from lack high turnover in the personnel assigned. Accordingly, the library appointed a senior librarian reporting directly to the head librarian as project officer to oversee and coordinate all aspects of the project. Although envisioned as a half-time responsibility, to date this has been a full time assignment. The facilities design and construction department assigned responsibility to an individual with considerable experience with untidy remodeling projects as well.

The new library project officer, by working very closely with staff, the architects, and the campus architect's office, provided an effective avenue for communicating desired modifications, bringing forward aspects of the project that were not covered by the budget or had otherwise been overlooked.

The assumption had been made in the early stages that equipment, furnishings and accoutrements from the old building would be reused. In instances where a whole new generation of facilities and services was planned — for example, in the electronic media center and the electronic bibliographic classroom, new furniture and equipment were essential. A continuing challenge is apportioning the small furnishings budget so as to meet those needs while utilizing the present furniture as much as possible. A seriously incorrect assumption was that existing collections shelving could simply be reused, while in fact considerable seismic retrofitting of the shelving itself will be required, by building codes if for no other reason.

We hope the twists and turns of the project as we have experienced them to date illustrate how unpredictable the course of remodeling projects can be — particularly for large complex buildings.As was said in the beginning, a desirable ingredient in a remodeling project is to have a healthy contingency built into the budget. If cost increases can be recognized as inevitable, then changes will not be viewed as overruns or worse yet require the diminution of the original intentions of the project. Rather, they will be regarded as a matter of course, and if there is money left over at the end, it can be diverted to other uses. The second most important ingredient is for the library to have a continuous in house project management team who stays with the project from beginning to end and whose only assignment is monitoring the project, and working with the rest of the staff to be sure that information to and from all other university administrators and the architect is communicated in a timely and clear way. In short, a library person needs to look after the library's interests. It cannot be overemphasized that architecture and construction are not arcane. Require the architects and campus administrators who are working for you to explain the processes in ways that make sense.

A third consideration is presence of an institutional culture that welcomes change and embraces flexibility. Remodeling is undertaken to correct problems, and it is a time to experiment to see if roadblocks can be removed through the redesign of space. It is surprising how often the staffs with whom we work try to reestablish in the remodel the very patterns that were not working in the older building. A more beneficial approach is to state clearly the nature of the need, and expect the architect to propose design solutions.

All architects are not all the same. It is important to find firms that approach design in a flexible, problem-solving manner. Circumstances do change; a design idea that has been conceived early in the project may have to be adapted as circumstances change. If early decisions are too expensive, a clever and cost efficient approach must be found. Architects tend to push boundaries with each successive building because of the desire to personalize each building for a particular client. Architects use the project to communicate with clients, and a frank exchange of ideas is important: it is important to disagree as well as accept each other's ideas. No successful buildings have ever existed without a client who cared deeply about the outcome. As in every other walk of life, success is usually the result of good communication.

In a university setting, people are specialists, and they tend to measure their success in terms of fulfilling their specific charge. For instance, the project manager at FDC measures his or her success on whether the budget that has been allocated is purchasing the work described by the documents. If the documents do not adequately and clearly describe the need and plan, this is not necessarily underscored to the user/client. Throughout the project the client should be concerned with the most fundamental question of all —what still remains to be decided and paid for on this project that I have not thought to ask about?

Joanne R. Euster, University Librarian
University of California, Irvine
(714) 824-5213 fax (714) 824-2472