Text description provided by the architects. Marlon Blackwell Architect were asked to design a new modern public library within the 100 year-old brick shell of a former hardware store, located on Main Street in the small town of Gentry, Arkansas.
The program includes space for a public library, a community room, and a city history and genealogy collection. There is an open lot adjacent to the library which had remained undeveloped since the city was established in the late 19th century. Here an urban pocket park is placed allowing access from Main Street and the community room. To the south of the building, a new urban plaza of grass and concrete pavers acts as a community space for events such as book fairs. An antique fire truck exhibit building along the south end of the plaza is scheduled for construction at a later date.
The existing brick structures, though of little architectural value, were greatly desired by the community to remain visually intact at the exterior. In an effort to elevate the significance of the scarred and patched buildings, they are conceived as historical artifacts. Steel and glass volumes encase existing openings, brick ornament, and selected walls at the ground and second floors. These volumes act as display cases oriented from the interior towards the city, presenting the artifacts to the public. They are intended to extend the gritty expressive character of the library with another layer of time, character, and modernity-- a new civic and urban presence for the town of Gentry.
At the front elevation a new load-bearing steel plate and glass curtain wall system activates the street and the public library with north light and integrated display shelves for books. The existing pressed metal ceiling is preserved in the library space, as well as, an existing mechanical hand lift for horse carriages. An atrium space is opened through the ceiling up to the existing skylight above. The skylight is reconstructed as a vertical glass volume - a beacon in the city.
In addition to steel and glass, finish materials include exposed brick, wood floors (existing heart pine and cherry), carpet tiles, and cherry millwork. A two story addition (rear lobby, toilet rooms and storage) at the south wall, in natural stucco finish, provides a vertical surface for flowering Clematis vines. Eventually this vertical garden wall will act as the public face of the library as one approaches from the south.