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UPDATE: Building the new library for VCU's future--Preliminary designs in the works focus on student spaces

October 1, 2012

VCU is on a fast track to build a new library adjacent to James Branch Cabell Library on the Monroe Park campus. The project will create a striking new facility on Shafer Court that will connect with the existing Cabell Library, while also renovating parts of Cabell in order to integrate old and new.

VCU Libraries embarked on the process of designing a new library building in April with the University's issuance of a Request for Proposal for an architect/engineering firm. The RFP was awarded to the team of Shepley Bullfinch and Moseley Architects, and work began in earnest with the first meeting of the architects and the University personnel on August 16. Four all-day meetings have been held with the building team, composed of representatives from the VCU Libraries, VCU Facilities Planning, and Shepley Bullfinch/Moseley. These early meetings have made rapid progress towards final design, thanks in part to space planning study completed in 2011 that identified space and services most needed in a new building.

The Process and the Timetable

The process so far has been organized around two main objectives.

  • First, the meetings worked to create a "program" for the new building: how much space to create and how to use that space. The 2011 space study provided a foundation for this work, so the team needed only to refine and confirm the overall space projections in the original study.
  • The second objective consisted largely of deciding how and where to create the new space, a process known technically as "blocking and massing." The team has worked through different schemes for where space will be created and where space will be renovated, and how those spaces will be distributed within the new and existing building.

The result: Four different building concepts are under review. In addition, the firm is exploring how the new building will sit on the proposed site and how it will affect pedestrian traffic. The firm is now moving forward with design proposals and a final schematic layout of the space that capture the decisions that have been made. First possible designs and renderings for the new building will be unveiled in late October. 

Inside the New Library

  • Most of the new building will be dedicated to space for students and faculty. Staff and collections space will be minimal.
  • There will be a significant increase in the quantity and variety of study seats to accommodate collaborative and individual work in active and quiet settings. This will include signature reading rooms and reconfigurable labs and group work areas.
  • Enhanced, dedicated research space will accommodate faculty and graduate students.
  • Media creation space will provide access to current and experimental audio and video content, visual and graphic design and production tools, and other advanced media resources to support academic projects, including high-end computers for video manipulation.
  • A significantly expanded Starbucks café will provide more space for study breaks.
  • A large, flexible, media-rich presentation and event space for gatherings of the VCU academic community may also include outdoor space.
  • Incorporation of artwork, exhibit and event space will showcase VCU's arts programs.
  • Teaching spaces that incorporate robust technology and flexible furnishings will support a variety of teaching and learning activities.
  • Special Collections and Archives department will have more capacity for collection growth.
  • The interior will blend memorable destinations within the library and flexible, efficient spaces that will meet needs for many years to come.
  • The balance of collections and readers will evolve over time. As the efficiency of library collection storage is increased through the installation of compact shelving, more space can be freed up for student seating.

From the Street 

  • The new building will be in the location of the existing loading dock on Shafer Court.
  • Green space east of the library will be preserved.
  • Glass facades will reveal interior activity, creating a welcoming beacon that draws the VCU community into the library.
  • The street levels of the library will provide pedestrian-scaled facades that welcome the campus into the building and engage with adjacent outdoor space.
  • Pedestrian flow will be a primary consideration: The building design will minimize obstacles to foot traffic from the new classroom building north to the Compass area, and from the Compass area west and south. The east walking path from Monroe Park should not be affected.
  • Options are being explored for additional expansion space along the east side of Cabell, as well as improvements to all facades. The various approaches will be evaluated in context of the budget and all project priorities.
  • The building design is targeting LEED Silver certification at a minimum.
  • A screened service area for deliveries and trash/recycling pick up will be accessed from Linden Street.
  • The amount of space for parking will be significantly smaller than today, lessening impact on the adjacent campus environments.
  • The university will explore whether it's possible to close Linden Street, possibly before the new library building opens in 2015.

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VCU Libraries

James Branch Cabell Library Monroe Park Campus
901 Park Ave., Box 842033
Richmond, VA 23284-2033
Toll-free: (844) 352-7399
(804) 828-1111
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Tompkins-McCaw Library MCV Campus
509 N. 12th St., Box 980582
Richmond, VA 23298-0582
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