Located at the nexus of Temple University’s main campus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the 20,439-m2 (220,000 sf) Charles Library serves as a central point of intersection between students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community.
“An early goal of the Charles Library design was for it to be an organizing element and a way to pull students to the library from multiple parts of the campus,” said Chad Carpenter, SnøhettaSnøhettatect. “We wanted the physical space of the library to be a collector and a warm, comforting place that everybody would understand as the center of campus.”
To impart the warm, inviting, natural look it desired, the design team chose custom wood panelized linear ceiling and wall systems. Between the exterior and interior ceiling and wall applications, over 4645-m2 (50,000 sf) of western red cedar panels were installed.
Western red cedar was also chosen because of its inherent flexibility.
“Western red cedar has three qualities that made a big difference in the domes,” said Carpenter. “It is suitable for use outside, so the inside and outside can be the same wood. It is flexible, so it is not particularly hard to bend, and it has an incredible variation in color tone.”
Three arched entrances lined with linear western red cedar panels extend into the lobby from the exterior and form a three-story domed atrium featuring a variety of curves and intersections. The central dome in the atrium features a curved oculus that allows light to filter into the lobby from the uppermost floor.
The unique geometry that characterizes each of the domes was achieved by gently bending the wood panels and installing them in a custom curved framing system.
“The primary dome is a revolved ellipsoid, which allowed it to be made out of a limited number of different panels,” said Carpenter. “The rest of the system was made out of single-curvature geometries, which allowed them to be made using the same shaped panel.”
The oculus is the only area of the ceiling where the panels are not bent.
“The oculus is the place where the curvature is the tightest in one direction but the planks themselves are all straight,” said Carpenter. “The curvature is only in the backer.”
The installation of the oculus was very complex and required a high level of skill on the part of the ceiling contractor.
“If you were to point to a place where the contractor really leaned into the craft for that particular product, it would be right there,” said Carpenter. “It looks really great.”
According to Carpenter, the key to the clarity of the overall ceiling design was the precision of the panel manufacturing process and the digital coordination with the framing contractor.
“A precisely made panel and careful coordination between ceiling fabricator, ceiling contractor, framing contractor, and design model were all vital,” said Carpenter.