Saturday, July 17, 2021

Library Bits: New Photos, Project Reticence, New Art

The other day Councilor Hoy published a bunch of photos from a tour of the Library renovation as it is nearing completion. "[i]t's quite remarkable! This open, bright and welcoming space is a huge upgrade!" he said.

Project has not been Exactly Open

Maybe there will be more when the building finally reopens, but the process, and the Committee overseeing it, hasn't shared as much information as they might have.

It's hard to say what is the right balance. On the architect's project page they say:

With almost no wiggle room in a utilitarian budget, the design team for Salem Public Library needed to get creative finding ways to make every dollar spent do double-duty.

Too much public process and public information might create friction, opportunities to second-guess, critique, or otherwise slow and complicate a project on a small budget and a tight timeline. It is not so difficult to understand why they might want to present it to us as a done deal when it is too late to create public process sludge.

Still, it's weird there's not an easily accessible summary plan. There is a presentation on issues and design solution at a very general level from April 2019, and a much briefer presentation from March 2021, but these don't show the final plan with focus areas called out. The Library Renovation Council Subcommittee just publishes bare-bones meeting agenda at the City's project site. You'd think there would be a greater number of presentations to the committee published as part of a meeting packet. And no overall summary. It's disappointing there is not more information easily accessible.

Further, you may remember the weirdness in the paper when the Statesman-Journal tried to preview the project in May:

Officials with the Portland-based general contractor company Howard S. Wright Construction, a subsidiary of London-based Balfour Beatty, declined to allow media photos unless the photos were reviewed and approved by the contractor before publication.

Because it is against the Statesman Journal’s policy to allow this type of control in the editing process, a Statesman Journal photographer was unable to take photos or videos of the site.

When city officials were questioned about a private company controlling access to a public building in a way that limited the public’s ability to see the taxpayer- funded work, officials deferred to the contractor, who they said has control of the site until construction is completed.

So we are left with little - and very selective - photo albums posted to social media, like what Councilor Hoy has done. It's nice, but it's also a very controlled information release.

Trellising or Seismic or Both?

One element in Councilor Hoy's photos that was interesting is what appeared to be a large wall of vertical trellising for greenery on the Peace Plaza side.

A nearly identical bay is also visible outside the construction site from Commercial Street.

Vertical trellising for greenery? Commercial St. side

The first remodel of the early 1990s had filled in what had been a full length arcade and main entry in the original plan. That remodel had retained the stairwell, though.

The arcade ran the full length. (2013)
Stairways connected at each end.

This time, our second remodel did not retain the stair and now is erasing even the traces of the old arcade and main entry. Cosmetically it may not seem like much, but this is a major intervention and alteration on the original form and plan of the building. Now it is just a box.

Demolition of the stair, May 2020
(also from Councilor Hoy)

Especially if that stairway was not important for any fire escape or other emergency egress, it had become like an appendix and was no longer needed. So the change is on the surface totally defensible. 

But it would have been interesting to learn it was in the works and to learn about the intention for the new trellising.

The bay is highlighted in orange/brown (April 2019)

One possibility is that it is screening for, or even perhaps part of, the structural seismic work. The presentation in April 2019 highlights this area.

It would be nice for the City and Hacker to publish a little more on the final design, and its aesthetic and functional goals.

Too much of the Library remodel is a minor mystery to be unveiled when it finally opens!

New Art is Underwhelming

Councilor Hoy also photographed what appears to be Amanda Wojick's commission, which she described early in the commissioning as

a large wall relief comprised of tilted, painted and welded steel planes. The composition is inspired by the many beloved waterfalls in the state of Oregon, together with the symbols and shapes found within the Dewey Decimal system. The shapes will be arranged in layers, creating a three-dimensional relief that changes from different perspectives.

The big public art commission, it seems.
Does it say "Dewey Decimal"?
(detail, Councilor Hoy)

Without the explanation, the numbers do not by themselves necessarily evoke the Dewey Decimal system. It'll be interesting to see in person, but in this first glance it's not as grand or as wondrous as I had hoped. It's the Library, kids will see it, and something monumental, inspiring, and easier to grasp at a glance seems like it should be the aim.

The way our Public Art Commission operates just does not seem like a very great success. This follows the Eye of Salem Sauron at the Police Station, and both of the commissions seem cluttered with fine detail that carries most of the art's significance. The basic form of the art at a distance doesn't carry the weight of meaning. Only up close do you see the words and numbers. Simpler and bolder might have led to more legible art. This kind of commission and placement shouldn't require that you get up close before you can actually read it. And even then an artist statement may be necessary to parse out the detail. Too much secret code.

It will be interesting to see what others have to say about it as they encounter it. Maybe people will love it.

More Windows and Central Stair

Two other elements are of particular interest.

They busted open the bays that had been closed and full of shelving, and glazed them. And it will be interesting to see just how much new light they actually bring in. The renderings have seemed a little optimistic.

Will the bays really be this bright?

And moving one of the stairs to the second level to tuck it under the mezzanine-style second floor could be simple and brilliant change.

The stair - April 2019 and Councilor Hoy

In the end, it will be just straight-up exciting to have the Library open again. But it will also be very interesting to see how with a very limited budget the design team improvised solutions to improve the space, just as an exercise in creativity under significant constraint. Sortof like writing a sonnet or a haiku. Can't wait to see it all.

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