On Monday night, Steamboat Springs took a personality test. Architect Barry Petit turned the lights out in Centennial Hall and began a subtle but complete psychological examination of the 25 residents who came to steer the physical appearance of the new Bud Werner Memorial Library.
Petit was hired by the East Routt Library District to design an expansion of the building, the funding of which is coming before taxpayers in November.
Conceptual sketches for the library are complete, but the look of the exterior and aesthetics of the interior are being determined through meetings such as the one held Monday night.
"Libraries are the most public of all buildings," Petit said. "(Their design) brings out a passion in people."
As Petit began to run slides of various public buildings, library director Chris Painter passed out fist-sized beach balls for people to throw in reaction to bad design.
For the next two hours, the discussion sounded more like a college art-appreciation class than a public meeting, as people discussed light quality and form.
"Every library has a different challenge based on the community," Petit said. In Steamboat, the main challenge lies in the library board's desire to incorporate the existing building into the new one. "We were skeptical at first, but I've been pretty surprised, and I'm pleased with the plan. It makes a lot of sense."
If taxpayers approve funding for the project during November's elections, the new library would be a two-story, 21,000-square-foot remodel and expansion of the existing 9,000-square-foot building.
Petit called his slideshow "a kind of Rorschach test" to determine people's true aesthetic desires.
Each slide represented different architectural themes and design concepts. Petit said that a library could mirror the existing architecture of the area or stand on its own as a statement.
People's first reactions were practical. Each piece of architecture was judged by how well it held snow. As attendees relaxed, they became bolder in their analyses.
"It looks like a penitentiary," one person yelled out while launching a beach ball at the screen. The group found most of the stark, modern designs to be "too cold" or "too institutional."
One piece of the new library's design is its ability to have two facades -- one facing Lincoln Avenue and another facing the Yampa River. Attendees made it clear they wanted windows on the river side to take advantage of the view, but that they didn't want an industrial looking wall of windows.
The most favorable reaction to any slide came with a photo of a Japanese/Craftsman style office building that featured large panels of windows divided by wood rather than metal. People also liked the deeply overhanging roofs and sheltered walkways that came with the building.
"I'm hearing the word 'peaceful' a lot to describe what you're looking for," Petit said. There was also a lot of concern about "a human scale." Everyone agreed the new building should not be imposing. Preferences tended toward buildings that used natural materials and designs that were broken up by multiple facades.
Petit will take the results of Monday night's discussion back to his drafting table in Minneapolis. If voters pass the library expansion in November, Petit will bring a first design back to Steamboat in December for another public design workshop to see whether his reading of the community's desires was accurate.
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