Inglenook Branch – Renovation Beyond the Book

The Inglenook Branch of the Birmingham Public Library has become a signature gathering place for its neighborhood thanks to the innovative renovation design work of Birmingham-based Hoskins Architecture.

The Alabama Council of The American Institute of Architects recognized the updated library and the company’s architectural design excellence at its 2015 awards gala last February.

In addition to bringing the library, originally built and used as a fire station, into compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, Hoskins Architecture increased the building’s natural lighting and enhanced its historic features. 

Creig Hoskins, founder and president of Hoskins Architecture, believes the award-winning building’s appearance goes beyond mere aesthetics or even efficient functionality. “The city initiated the library renovation to address water intrusion and deficiencies, such as life, safety and accessibility non-compliance, ” Hoskins says. “However, Hoskins Architecture’s commitment to sustainability, history of place, community, quality of performance and function resulted in a completely transformed building that has become a catalyst for change in this blighted area.”

Renovation projects such as Inglenook typically have a number of pros and cons from an architectural perspective, Hoskins says. Challenges include the budget, technology requirements, condition of the existing facility and time frame to complete the work. But Hoskins believes a renovation project’s various challenges call upon an architect’s creativity as much as a from-the-ground-up project. “In my opinion creativity can occur as easily (in a renovation), ” he says. “Creativity/design is best when the user, owner and architect have dialog about the process.”

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Daylight illuminates 95 percent of Inglenook’s interior space, says architect Creig Hoskins.

Photo by Callan Childs

The library’s surrounding community has always been proud of the history of the building, which served as Fire Station No. 23 from 1927 until 1978. But when it opened as a library in 1979, the building’s striking fire hose tower was altered and somewhat diminished. “Removing the dropped ceiling in the high bay, replacing boarded up window openings with new windows at the tower and replacing internal walls with new beams and columns not only increased the daylight in the building, but it exposed one of the forgotten elements of the fire station — a drying tower for the truck hoses, ” Hoskins points out.

Hoskins’ firm opted to wrap the lower part of the building with strips of 100-year-old reclaimed longleaf pine skin from a timber mill, giving it an appealing, rustic-yet-upscale, modern look. Hoskins says the choice “allows the high bay to stand out and express the original function of the building as a neighborhood fire station. The original door for the trucks (renovations at the time the building was re-purposed as a library replaced it with a window) has been replaced with a fixed overhead garage door invoking the earliest use of the building.”

Sustainable design strategies for the 3, 441-square-foot library included using daylight to help illuminate 95 percent of the above-grade spaces. Energy-efficient lighting and occupancy sensors were also added — also low-flow fixtures, reclaimed building materials, cork flooring, R-30 insulation in the heretofore uninsulated roof and walls, an energy efficient mechanical system and on-site bike storage. Windows and doors were replaced with more energy-efficient products and “cool roofing” technology adopted to reduce “urban heat island effect.”

The Inglenook project presented several site-specific challenges, Hoskins says, including “making the library accessible from the parking lot to the front entrance without having ramps and handrails everywhere. By creating an exterior seating space for the young adults, that allowed the site to be re-graded without rails.”

The firm also needed to create a useful and attractive employee lounge and storage area. “We opened the basement to the main floor to provide visual connection and a place for the employees to relax, ” he says.

The modest budget for the project was $405, 414, including site work. “This complete exterior and interior remodel was accomplished for the original project ADA and life safety budget, ” Hoskins says. “Creativity, low budget and quality can co-exist.”

While Hoskins Architecture doesn’t typically work on architectural design for renovation work, Hoskins says he is open to other renovation projects if they fit the company’s vision for promoting positive change in communities. Of the vision for the Inglenook Library project in particular, Hoskins says, “We wanted to bring quality to the project and pride back to the neighborhood. Every segment of the population deserves the highest quality that is available to them. Inglenook Library embodies the idea of community, sustainability and creativity. It represents what can be possible.”

Key Contractors

Structural Engineer: MBA Engineer
HVAC Engineer: Engineering Design Technologies Inc.
Electrical Engineer: Engineering Design Technologies Inc.
Contractor: Cross Building Co.

Kathy Hagood is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She is based in Homewood.

Text by Kathy Hagood

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