2012 Design Award: Golden Gate Branch Library

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In November 2000, San Francisco voters approved a $105.9 million bond measure to upgrade branch libraries throughout the City. Bay Area Paulett Taggart Architects (architecture) and Tom Eliot Fisch (interiors) were selected with a goal to strengthen communities by bringing every neighborhood branch up to building and disability access standards, thus transforming them into environmentally sustainable, 21st century libraries. The project won a 2012 Honor Award from the AIA California Council.

Nestled in the City’s Cow Hollow neighborhood, the project is one of seven Carnegie branch libraries to benefit from San Francisco’s Branch Library Improvement Program. Designed by Ernest Coxhead in the Beaux Arts style, the elegantly curved basilica structure was built in 1918. The $4.2 million Golden Gate Valley Branch Library rehabilitation, completed in October 2011, brings a historic jewel into contemporary library use as a safe, accessible, technology-rich, LEED Gold public resource, while preserving its historic integrity for future generations to enjoy.

Golden Gate Branch Library

Photo © Bruce Damonte Photography

The rehabilitation involved accessibility, life safety and systems upgrades, façade restoration, and a complete interior renovation consistent with the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for the treatment of historic properties. A small modern addition, which provides accessibility, sits adjacent to the existing structure but remains distinct from the historic language of the original architecture. The architecture of the addition incorporates contemporary materials and elements that share the tonal warmth of the building’s original terra cotta and provides a complementary counterpoint to the historic building.

Challenges of the project included the seismic upgrade of the building. Moment frames had to be designed to minimize any change in the appearance of the interior of the building and carefully dropped into place from above by crane. A second design challenge was the intersection of new and old, where the addition surrounds the historic building’s southwest corner. Their solution was to preserve the existing building corner by showcasing it as an interior element within a new, two-story space, which accentuates the coming together of the historic and the modern.

Photo © Bruce Damonte Photography

Sustainability was an important issue in this rehabilitation. As this is an historic building, materials were restored, cleaned and reused wherever possible, and systems upgrades were done for energy efficiency. Solar photovoltaic panels were also added to the south sloping roof, which is located at the back of the building and thus not visible from the street.

This award-winning project was a joint venture headed by Bobbie Fisch, a partner at Tom Eliot Fisch, and Paulett Taggart, FAIA, of Paulett Taggart Architects. Taggart was raised in Boston and the Netherlands. She received her B. Arch. from University of Oregon and M. Arch. from Harvard University. She has a staff of nine who specialize in community facilities and affordable housing.

Left: Paulett Taggart, FAIA
Right: Bobbie Fisch

Growing up, Fisch lived in many places: Virginia, New Jersey, New Mexico, Iowa, and Okinawa. She attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Her firm of 23 employees specializes in interior architecture and programming for practice areas that include workplace and healthcare.

To view this award winning project and other 2012 Design Award recipients click here.


Tim Culvahouse, FAIA

Tim Culvahouse, FAIA, is Editor-in-Chief of the AIA California Council and an architect specializing in the public communication of design ideas through his firm, Culvahouse Consulting.

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