The Carrick Library
The Carrick neighborhood in south Pittsburgh had been making the most of its branch library for decades. Granted, the small one-story building carved into a slope was cramped and cavelike, with the only natural light filtered through the glass block of the library’s front façade. But that didn’t stop library staff from developing innovative programming for local youth and adults and establishing the library as a hub of the community.
When it came time for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to invest in a new Carrick branch, the Carrick staff and community knew exactly what they needed from the new building: light, space, and views to the outside. The tight site made this tricky, though.
“We found a way to create a two-story scheme on the existing site,” says Laura Nettleton, owner of Thoughtful Balance and the design partner on the project with NK Architects. “But the community felt they were being shortchanged. It still felt too small, and it didn’t really flow. They weren’t happy.”
In response, the library purchased the adjacent corner lot and tore down the building on it. That allowed for more space for the new library, although the site’s slope still put the ground floor several feet underground at the building’s back edge.
“We saw this rebirth of the Carrick branch as a chance to offer library users and staff a transformation in indoor air quality, comfort, and energy use,” Nettleton says. The concept of Passive House was not new to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Nettleton had worked with its Director of Facilities Development Ron Graziano, to apply Passive House design principles to the recent renovation of the nearby Hazelwood branch. Though Hazelwood did not quite make certification, Graziano liked the outcome: 16% less energy use despite a doubling of space, lots more light, and peace and quiet. Despite a tight budget for the Carrick project, Passive House design got baked in early.