Atherton Library and Town Center

Lauded for its scenic, thickly wooded character with abundant open space, Atherton’s new Library and Town Center is a site-specific central hub that reflects and serves the two primary tenants, the Town of Atherton and the San Mateo County Libraries. The multifaceted project spans the renovation of the existing historic town hall, a new, modern library, and a California Mission-style town center that houses city administration, public works, community meeting spaces, and the police station. A high touch neighborhood with multiple stakeholders, the project required many months of finely-tuned workshops and collaborative sessions. Atherton’s new Library and Town Center balances the desire to preserve local charm while flexing to accommodate the changing demands of the engaged community it serves.

Responsive to two separate funding streams and aesthetic guidelines, the design weaves together the new and renovated historic buildings with landscaped spaces to create a cohesive, interconnected community resource. The buildings respond to one another as well as the mature oak trees in the park where the new Town Center will reside. The trees are not only a critical symbol for the Town of Atherton, but the canopies are an ecological resource for migratory birds as the Atherton Coastal Mountain Ridgeline is the only place on the Peninsula that connects the coastal wetlands to the ocean. The Atherton Library and Town Center highlights the mature oaks that help make up the canopy connections of this habitat corridor, using sustainable design to reinforce an authentic sense of place. A distributed stormwater approach helps reduce infrastructure impact, while serving as a community resource for how to handle site water and regional landscape.

The library connects to the historic city hall building (where the library is currently housed) through a large outdoor patio, envisioned as a front porch for the community. The collection of diverse program, a children’s reading area, quiet reading rooms, maker spaces, senior resource rooms, community work rooms and a touchdown café, reflects the changing role of the library as a community asset for all ages and a resource for long life learning. The library’s modern aesthetic contrasts with the existing historic structure, but complimentary material selection, like rammed earth, help position the addition as an organic, background building, molded around the historic trees. The new library reflects current research about how the facilities can best serve our communities now and in the future, with a flexible design that can adapt to community needs as technology and work evolve. The facility is designed with iPad check outs, public meeting rooms, maker spaces, and quiet rooms with adjacent outdoor spaces.

The original city and police services were housed in separate facilities and were not convenient for citizens. The new two-story town center brings together the post office, planning and building department services, police department services, and other town resources. The L-shaped building has two wings which join together to create a public living room. The new council chamber, with seating for 50, has been designed to allow for greater attendance and to function as a meeting room, conference facility and augmented emergency center if needed.

In keeping with the Atherton’s dedication to reduced carbon, the campus is all electric and has a Net Zero Energy masterplan that allows for phased addition of photovoltaics. The library will be Net Zero energy with the installed rooftop 100 kW array. A focus on comfort and health is seen with the inclusion of ceiling fans, operable windows and materials selected with the aid of Environmental Product Declarations. The library’s underfloor air system supports good air quality strategies and flexibility. Natural materials like the rammed earth wall and wood windows reflect a desire to bring biophilic principles into the interior. WRNS Studio worked with both the TOA and SMCL in the selection of furniture that would meet the current and future needs. The Atherton Library and Town Center is targeting LEED Platinum.

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