Warm, Inviting Look of Wood Draws Students to University Library

Dec. 7, 2020

The new Charles Library at Temple University serves as a central point of intersection between students, faculty, staff and the surrounding community.

Philadelphia, Pa.

“An early goal of the library design was for it to be an organizing element and a way to pull students to the library from multiple parts of the campus,” says Chad Carpenter, project manager, Snohetta. “The goal was also for the physical space of the library to be a collector and a warm, comforting place that everybody would understand as the center of campus.”


Between the exterior and interior ceiling and wall applications, over 50,000 sq. ft. of western red cedar panels were installed. Western red cedar was chosen because of its inherent flexibility. “Western red cedar has three qualities that made a big difference in the domes,” Carpenter explains. “It’s suitable for use outside, so the inside and outside can be the same wood. It’s flexible, so it’s not particularly hard to bend, and it has an incredible variation in color tone.”


To impart an inviting, natural, the design team chose custom WoodWorks Panelized Linear Systems from Armstrong Ceiling & Wall Solutions. Three arched entrances lined with linear western red cedar panels extend into the lobby from the exterior and form a three-story domed atrium featuring a variety of different curves and intersections. The central dome in the atrium features a curved oculus that allows light to filter into the lobby from the uppermost floor.

The unique geometry that characterizes each of the domes was achieved by gently bending the wood panels and installing them in a custom curved framing system. “The primary dome is a revolved ellipsoid which allowed it to be made out of a limited number of different panels,” the architect said. “The rest of the system was made out of single-curvature geometries, which allowed them to be made using the same shaped panel.”

The oculus is the only area of the ceiling where the panels are not bent. “The oculus is the place where the curvature is the tightest in one direction but the planks themselves are all straight,” he added. “The curvature is only in the backer.”

According to Carpenter, the key to the clarity of the ceiling design was the precision Armstrong was able to bring to the panel manufacturing process and the digital coordination with the framing contractor.


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