One thing you notice immediately upon stepping inside the new downtown library is, well … the rest of downtown. Every floor-to-ceiling window in the newly opened River Center branch showcases some facet of the cityscape.
There’s the historic Old State Capitol standing proudly to the west, the bustle of Galvez Plaza just outside the north entrance, and you can catch a glimpse of the Mississippi River bridge from the top floor’s southern-facing windows.
But look within, and you’ll see the city there, too. The walls are adorned with mural-sized maps of Baton Rouge from the ’60s and of the river and all its incremental course changes over time.
Most windows offer a show-stopping view of downtown, equipped with perforated aluminum sunshades to keep glare at a minimum. “With all of these windows facing west, north and east, it’s going to be a 6-foot socially distant sea of people sitting all across all three sides of this building,” Stein says.
“The river informed the way Baton Rouge developed—and still does,” says Mary Stein, assistant director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library system. “We knew we had to have that connection to the river, and also needed to make sure we fit in with other buildings downtown.”
Making this shiny new four-story library fit in with downtown took nearly four years. The previous boxy, concrete library structure was torn down in late summer 2016, and the new building ran into some serious obstacles along the way. Its cantilevered upper floors, balancing over a massive entrance plaza, suffered a structural failure in 2018 that halted work for more than a year.
COVID-19 caused further delays, preventing deliveries of much of the library’s furnishings. But even though safety precautions have stilted the full library experience, it finally opened in late June. As of press time, librarians are retrieving books for visitors and seating is limited, but it’s still welcoming the public.
“Just like with the Main Library, it’s all about striking a balance between ideas we get from the public,” Stein says. “What can this one building accomplish? We eked as much as we could out of every possible square footage here. But we’re also planning for the future, because we won’t build this again. It needs to have the right infrastructure so that it can reinvent itself in the future.” ebrpl.com
This article was originally published in the August 2020 issue of 225 Magazine.