Lee B. Philmon Branch Library

Project Description

Within earshot of the Atlanta airport, the Library Board was given a leftover site wedged between properties slated for development; to the north, a future gas station and convenience store; to the west, a proposed strip mall; to the south and east, a long-promised parkway. Corralled by sprawling suburbia, the little library asserts itself with quietude within a rapidly changing landscape, harnessing the mundane to invoke the abstract and the sublime.

Not unlike the nearby Wal-Mart or the neighboring metal shed that houses the Living Waters Assembly of God, the library has thin walls and flat facades. Its construction techniques are evident and familiar. Yet while its neighbors announce themselves with bold signage and clarify their functions with familiar forms, the library confounds the easy read—over scaled but dainty, bold but serene. It is a stealth building in an ocean of obviousness, a mysterious brushstroke against a background of predictability. And its curiosity becomes its invitation to the passerby.

Curious? Well, come inside. Along with a library’s store of knowledge, you will find an oasis of variegated space and light. Those curious patterns on the outside are actually giant pennants of glazing that invite daylight to wash the stacks and ceilings. The grand tapered geometries of the facade actually mirror the slope of ordinary roof trusses inside. But these trusses, which give shape to the ceiling, are installed in groups with alternating slopes to provide an undulating play of space, rising and falling with multiple facets for bouncing light and dispersing sound. The dappling of daylight is further encouraged by skylights atop each column, and artificial uplight is thrown from 40 foot floating steel fixtures and bounced off of the many planes to provide a well-dispersed light for browsing and reading.

Most functions of the library (adult stacks, children’s collections, casual reading and study tables, public computers, reference area, circulation and staff lounge) share space under the expansive trellis-like ceiling. Excluded are the barrel-shaped public meeting room to the south and the outdoor reading garden to the north. These two exceptions appear as solid masses outside the building, but inside they are habitable discoveries and moments of repose, one step further from the day-to-day.

The exterior is clad with unpainted fiber cement board attached with exposed fasteners. Glazing frames are redwood or aluminum. Inside, the ceiling is painted gypsum board, and walls are gypsum board or natural birch veneer plywood. Floors are integral-colored concrete or carpeted. Custom casework includes unpainted hot-and cold-rolled steel sheet, aluminum, lacquered medium density fiber board, redwood, cherry and fiber cement board.



Project Origins


Project Information

project: a branch library
client: Clayton County Library System
location: Riverdale, Georgia
completion date: winter 1997
building area: 12,000 square feet
construction budget: $1.3 million


  • 2003 National AIA / ALA Award of Excellence
  • 2003 South Atlantic Region AIA Honor Award
  • 1999 Georgia AIA Design Award of Excellence