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Winthrop library

Design Partner: Johnston Architects

The 7,000 sf Winthrop Public Library represents an impressive achievement in community-based design. Working on a tight timeline and with an even tighter budget, the design team created a handsome building that is not only a library, but also a community center, classroom, and place of refuge for the Methow Valley.

Situated in the town of Winthrop, the library is located near the Methow River and enjoys views of the North Cascades. Building and site design are organized around two perpendicular axes. The “River” axis runs north-south, cutting laterally across the building’s rectangular plan. It creates an entrance lobby and divides the library space at the west end from a large community meeting room at the east end. The east-west “Mountain” axis, centered on Mount Gardner’s distant, snow-capped peak, is dramatically emphasized at the interior by a monumental sculpture, created from a burned-out cedar tree.

In response to local historicist guidelines, the building’s design employs a simple gable form and layered wood cladding to evoke the massing and texture of local hay barns. At the interior, a backdrop of natural wood and white finishes and fixtures provides a neutral backdrop for colorful books, furnishings, and the work of local artists.

The library is situated at the intersection of a busy street and a popular walking trail. The site design makes the building an inviting presence at the corner, creating functional and visual ties to the trail and the town of Winthrop beyond. Landscaping creates outdoor rooms with seating, shading and views of the surrounding mountains. Plantings focus on native and, in a region that is vulnerable to wildfire, firewise species.

The design and construction team created the most sustainable building possible within the project budget. In the broadest sense, the library represents a building block of a sustainable community. It is a beautiful landmark that offers opportunities for community gathering, both inside and out. It offers educational opportunities as well as amusement. It offers refuge from summer heat and wildfire smoke. Finally, access to reliable, free WiFi is an important, oft-discussed component of social equity.

Using the LEED Silver metric as a guide (but not seeking certification), the building incorporates many sustainable features:

  • The site is adjacent to a walking path and transit stop and is within walking distance of downtown Winthrop and various amenities. All stormwater is filtered on-site and plantings are drought-tolerant and firewise. Lighting is dark-sky compliant.

  • The building shell is insulated and sealed beyond code. Exterior sunshades are crafted of Kebony, a durable, sustainable wood product created from treated pine. The roof has been engineered to support a solar array that will offset 60% of the building’s energy consumption.

  • At the interior, wherever possible, “green” materials, such as recycled carpet and low-VOC coatings and sealants were used. There is abundant natural light, with carefully placed overhangs and sunshades to limit glare. All lighting is LED. Handsome wood slats at ceiling and walls contribute to excellent acoustic performance.

  • HVAC is designed around a high-quality AC/Heat split system and ERV, while ceiling fans provide destratification to improve efficiency. The system uses MERV 85% filters for air quality (especially during times of smoke). The building has undergone commissioning to confirm its initial performance.