February 18, 2010

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Contemporary concepts
Library troubles become architectural contest

By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

The winning design for the 2010 Intern/Young Architect Design Competition from the New Hampshire chapter of the American Institute of Architects definitely looks cool — as did most of the other four submissions.

And interestingly, Brian and Alyssa Murphy’s design for expanding Milford’s Wadleigh Memorial Library has a contemporary exterior — kind of a surprising choice for the quaint New England town.

“On one hand, it is a competition, you have to stretch the ideas and make them interesting,” Brian Murphy said.

Library director Michelle Sampson, one of the contest judges, said she wasn’t sure initially that she liked the exterior design, but she “absolutely loved” the Murphys’ solution for Wadleigh’s interior. Library officials knew going in that some entries might be “pie in the sky,” but the idea is to encourage creative thinking, Sampson said.

“On the other hand, you have to treat it with some sense of reality, that it could be a built thing,” Murphy said. The building has to be absorbed into the fabric of the town, he said. And a wood-finished exterior isn’t that out of the ordinary for New England buildings, he said. 

Sampson liked aspects of other submissions — including a roof garden. Wadleigh trustees had included “green initiatives” on their competition wish list.

Nathan Stolarz of TMS Architects in Portsmouth took second place for a design that “took the existing [brick] structure and basically put a glass cube over it,” Sampson said.

Stolarz moved a Civil War memorial statue and fountain on the property inside the glassed space, and included a night rendering that “just looked so warm and inviting and almost meditative in that particular area. I loved that,” Sampson said.

The Murphys’ inclusion of an amphitheater looked useful for smaller outdoor concerts or storytimes, Sampson said.

View the submissions at http://aianhyac.webs.com/.

The designs generally extended the library closer to the sidewalk and road in some way, Sampson said. Because the building is on a hill, it’s pretty easy for people who don’t know where Milford’s library is to “blow right past,” she said. (It’s on the left on 101A coming from Nashua — if you hit the Milford Oval you’ve gone too far, she said.)

Still, since the 1986 addition (built to last 20 years) to the 1950 structure, circulation has increased by more than 160 percent, Sampson said. In that time, the town’s population rose between 42 and 45 percent, currently estimated at about 15,000. The library had about 193,000 visits last year, she said. Circulation has increased in the past three years, also, in part because of the economy, Sampson said.

Civic and community structures are of particular interest to the Murphys. “That’s what we aspire to as architects ... building things that are good for a community and serve a lot of people and serves them well,” Murphy said.

Murphy said there were a lot of things they were trying to accomplish while trying to address the Wadleigh’s history and objectives. Wadleigh is a “really bustling place,” more like a community center, Murphy said. The Murphys wanted to make it not just a place filled with books, but also a place for technology and the things a library should have in the 21st century. They saw it as a place for people to gather, which was also on the library’s agenda, Murphy said.

A library project can be more challenging because you aren’t just adding more office or storage space, Sampson said. Population expands across demographics, which also means you can’t just add a wing.

Wadleigh is crowded, Sampson said. The teen space they tried to carve out is “woefully inadequate,” she said. Several teens gathered in the children’s area or reading room can cause issues, she said.  Along with the trustees’ priorities, a 2007 study of the library’s situation and blueprints were provided to competitors, most of whom also toured the building.

The Wadleigh has been on Milford’s capital improvement plan for several years — at one point slated for a 2006 addition and renovation, Sampson said. The project has been pushed back a number of times, currently until 2015, she believes.

“I know a little bit about the reality of their situation,” Murphy said. “We would be happy to see this project through. Although it is a competition, and at this stage just ideas ... we designed this proposal with belief in it becoming reality,” Murphy said. However, their design needs to be refined and others will need to have a say in a municipal building plan, he said.

The Murphys are now Portsmouth-based; they recently moved from New York City. Their Web site is manypennymurphy.com.



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