New Central Library – “Austin’s front porch” – boasts rooftop garden and more

Austin is head over heels in love with our new Central Library, a marvelous civic structure by Lake|Flato that is much more than a library. It’s a community space for all of Austin in a prime location on Cesar Chavez Street near Austin City Hall and across from Lady Bird Lake.

Since its grand opening in October, I’ve visited several times, and I’m excited to be on the team bringing Garden Bloggers Fling attendees here for our welcome reception in a private event space next May.

The library is one of the first places in Austin that our bloggers will visit, and the beautiful native-plant landscaping at street level will make a strong first impression.

This public patio along Cesar Chavez, screened from the busy street by massive block-style benches and native trees, grasses, and perennials, is adjacent to our event space — nice!

Doubles as a bouldering structure?

Inside — shazam! Floating steel stairs and wooden walkways dizzyingly change direction, Hogwarts-style, as they rise through an airy atrium.

Everywhere, an eye-candy assortment of colorful, modern chairs beckons visitors to get comfy and read.

Booths are designed for working with others, with a downtown view to boot.

Light and bright

A red “lip” chair, and beyond the red porthole window is a children’s area.

Continuing the red theme, a gigantic cuckoo clock silhouette hangs in the atrium, but instead of cuckoos the birds represent Austin’s oft-unloved grackles.

It’s accompanied by a video installation of an oversized grackle silhouette in a window-like frame. The bird’s head occasionally flicks around in a lifelike way, creating a moment of surprise.

Climbing up all 6 floors, you pass airy book stacks, meeting rooms, and reading spaces…

…like this open reading room furnished with inviting chairs and tables.

The room’s windows overlook one of the coolest spaces in the library, at least for garden lovers — the rooftop native-plant garden. Look — there’s an oak tree up there!

Yuccas, flowering perennials, and grasses flow across a mounded central planting bed, with seating all around and an L-shaped arbor for shade.

One side looks south over Lady Bird Lake and east toward downtown, offering a beautiful view.

Lady Bird Lake, with the Long Center and Palmer Events Center on the other side

Relaxing and reading in the garden

I love this space.

From the east side of the rooftop garden, you get a great view of the new 2nd Street Bridge, aka the Butterfly Bridge, which spans Shoal Creek.

Circling back around to the atrium stairs, you get another glimpse of the rooftop garden. And more lip chairs!

Another incredible space, and one that epitomizes Lake|Flato’s style, is the reading porch, just past the children’s area. An open-air space that invites readers to get out of the air conditioning and enjoy Austin’s weather, the screened porch has an enticing mix of seating, fascinating geodesic dome lights, and child-friendly valve wheels on the walls that you can spin, plus Big Ass Fans (real name) to keep readers comfortable.

Those colorful sofas. Those woven ottomans. Those lights!

This little cutie found some pinwheels.

The exterior is wonderful too, and includes a steel shade panel with laser-cut quotes about reading and books. Below that, facing pedestrian-friendly 2nd Street, is where a soon-to-open cafe, Cookbook, will offer cookbook-inspired dishes and drinks (including alcoholic beverages).

The landscaping was still being planted in late November, but the bones are in place. Update: Lake|Flato tells me that the landscape architecture firm behind the design is Coleman & Associates.

Limestone slabs create raised planting beds — and new buildings are sprouting up behind the new plants.

I like the naturalistic planting of native plants along the Shoal Creek ravine, with a nice view of the Butterfly Bridge beyond.

At dusk, the “wings” are washed with softly colored lights that segue from yellow to green to red.

A wide pedestrian sidewalk floats along the side of the bridge.

It’s a lovely, human-scaled bridge that echoes Austin’s arched Pennybacker Bridge on Loop 360.

Austin is lucky to have this magnificent public library in such a scenic part of downtown. I look forward to spending many pleasant hours here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Calling all garden bloggers! You’re invited to register for the annual Garden Bloggers Fling tour and meetup, which will be held in Austin next May 3-6, 2018! Click this link for information about registering, and you can see our itinerary here. Space is limited, so don’t delay. The 2018 Fling will be the event’s 10th anniversary, which started in Austin in 2008.

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks! Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by inspiring designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

20 Responses

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    This is the most outstanding library I have ever toured. I would want to live there. There is nothing I would change. I love the blackbird clock. As soon as I laid eyes on it I thought cuckoo clock with crows on it. ha…I am glad to see that it is named CAW. Crows can be a massive problem around here during winter as they congregate for their night roost. I love the lip chairs and Bad Ass Fans. Sort of a kiss my ass kind of theme. What ever lovin very inch of it.

  2. Maggie C says:

    What a great review! I love our new library and expect to spend many hours there. Do you know who did the landscaping? I had assumed it was a Ten Eyck project, but don’t see her name listed anywhere, so that must be incorrect.

  3. Lara Leaf says:

    That is a fantastic library. Houston renovated the central library downtown around 10 years ago. Don’t know why they bothered. To me, it still looks like a huge chunk of concrete straight out of the Soviet era. It makes me so frustrated and infuriated that so much money was sunk into the project. Why, why can’t our city planners build us nice things like your city planners do! And, to top it off, I have heard there is a big problem with homeless people taking it over. I’ve read reviews from tourists who have visited it and have commented on that, saying they were uncomfortable there.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      There were concerns here too about the purpose of a big new library in our Internet age, and how to build it for the unknown technology of the future. I’m glad they forged ahead and reinvented it as a community-based civic structure with plenty of books (lots more than could be housed in the old library, in fact) but also with other reasons to come and be a part of the community: the enticing reading spaces, the meeting rooms, the restaurant, an amphitheather (not pictured) for programs, and event rental space. —Pam

  4. Kris P says:

    Wow! If only more cities invested such thought and effort (and money) into their libraries!

  5. Shirley says:

    And I thought our Central Library was distinctive! Yours is more welcoming though we did recently redo our plaza to ground it better within the city.

    So excited to learn it’s on the blogger tour! Can’t wait to explore.

  6. Beverly says:

    Thank you Pam for this post. I had no idea the library was so spectacular. I am planning a day trip now just to tour it–you have inspired me! Thank you for bringing wonderful spots like this in our own Austin to the fore. I always learn (see) something new from your posts. Keep up the wonderful photography and writing!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Thanks for the wonderful compliment, Beverly! And I’m glad to have inspired you to visit the new library. One thing to note: it’s very popular, and there’s no free parking downtown. There is a pay parking garage, but I find it fills up quickly at peak times, as does street parking. So go early or late, and you should have no problem finding a space to park, and it’ll only cost a couple of bucks for an hour or so. Or if you’re close enough to bike, they have extensive bike parking too. —Pam

  7. ks says:

    Fantastic and so refreshingly forward-thinking. Really looking forward to the in-person Fling visit !

  8. Diana Studer says:

    Love to see a future looking to books and native plants

  9. Denise Maher says:

    Fabulous! Our Long Beach library and adjacent civic center is getting a makeover too — in fact the hated existing structures, though not 50 years old, are being razed. The new design is similar to yours, tho not as grand! The old design was a brutalist, dark, windowless, dank affair — and “front porch” is also being used to describe our new library. What a difference good design makes!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      It sounds, from your comment and others, that there is a library renaissance happening. I look forward to seeing pics of your new library (and what I feel sure will be stunning SoCal landscaping around it) when it’s complete. —Pam

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