Society salutes system of signs at library

Vancouver Community Library receives award for design that 'shows what a library can be'

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

Published:

 

In the search for knowledge, it's tough to lose your way in the Vancouver Community Library.

That seems to have been the opinion of judges in the 2014 SEGD Global Design Awards program. The international interdisciplinary design group, also known as the Society for Experiential Graphic Design, recently granted a Merit Award to the Vancouver Community Library at 901 C St. for its "wayfinding design," or system of signs that direct patrons to where they want to go.

Some of the library's "wayfinding" devices are hard to miss. In particular, the giant letters that dominate on the library's exposed concrete stairway shout out directions to the children's library, nonfiction, and fiction collections. The Global Design Awards judges praised those innovative markers, as well as the huge "knowledge wall" next to the stairway, with its three-dimensional prompts of evocative words including "Discuss," "Question," and"Dream."

The jury called the design "a seamless integration of architecture and wayfinding — a symphony of materials and finishes — a playful interplay of scale and architecture. An imaginative wayfinding system for a multistoried library. This project shows what a library can be as opposed to what it has been traditionally."

Karin Ford, the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District's public services director, said library administrators didn't immediately embrace the idea of printing giant letters on the concrete stair platforms.

"We did have a lot of questions," Ford recalled. "We had never seen it before. The major discussion was around knowing that the life and function of the library would change; did we want to designate the floors that way?"

The designers said they would use vinyl letters that could be removed, eliminating that concern. The library's leaders decided to go with the idea, telling designers: "We trust you this will look classy, not cheap," Ford recalled.

Sue Vanlaanen, the library district's communications and marketing director, said library staff continue to hear praise about the building three years after its opening. "We hear from so many people how much they love the building," she said. Some comment specifically on the visually imposing knowledge wall, Vanlaanen added.

"It seems to be a very feel-good building," she said. The project's cost was approximately $38 million.

The library's design team included Mayer/Reed, a Portland design studio that developed the wayfinding features; AldrichPears Associates of Vancouver B.C., responsible for interpretive installations; sign fabricators Plumb Signs Inc. of Tacoma and Pacific Studio of Seattle; and project architects MillerHull Partnership of Seattle.