San Diego New Central Library / San Diego, California

San Diego’s New Central Library will replace a deteriorating and overcrowded downtown facility built in 1954. The architectural design was conceived by Rob Quigley in a series of interactive workshops attended by hundreds of San Diegans. Art Castro is the managing architect. The joint venture team of Rob Wellington Quigley, FAIA and Tucker Sadler Architects implemented the design.

The new library has two civic objectives: first and foremost, to serve the community’s needs for information, literacy, and knowledge in the 21st century; and second, to be a new community landmark—a civic icon that embodies San Diego's commitment to the future.

Something for Everyone

The library was conceived as a simple 9-story archive of flexible space sandwiched at the top and ground floors with diverse and accessible public amenities. At the request of citizen participation groups, bay view terraces, roof gardens, and a public “reading room” were added to the base program. Other features include a 330-seat flexible special events room on the 9th floor, various terraces, a cafe, gardens, and an inspiring reading room under the lattice dome—creating a unique and extraordinary facility for use by all San Diegans.

People will enter the library through the 2-story arcade that runs the length of the Park Boulevard facade. Two-story transparent glass windows invite views into the library and attract visitors from the trolley and surrounding areas. A secure vestibule contains the parking elevator and library store/gift shop. From the vestibule, one enters a 3-story lobby containing both elevators and escalators to the lower three levels. The lobby also provides access to the Circulation Desk and to the Popular (i.e., downtown branch) Library and Children's Library.

At the ground level, large folding glass doors open to the southern courtyard or "library garden." This outdoor room, shaded by large trees, is conceived as a principal public gathering space, secure but accessible from both 'K' Street and Park Boulevard. The garden is intended to be a celebration of San Diego's lifestyle and diverse values. Suitable for large gatherings but intimate in character, it is served by a warming kitchen and animated by a pavilion-like outdoor café on the east.

At the south edge of the courtyard is a 332-seat, sloped floor auditorium. During good weather, the entire facade between the auditorium and courtyard opens up to increase capacity and share activities.

A Public Penthouse

Penthouse levels of typical downtown buildings offer spectacular bay views but are usually reserved for exclusive clubs or executive offices. The San Diego New Central Library will depart from this precedent in a significant way: the top floors will serve as a cultural penthouse available to all.

A great, airy, three-story crystalline reading room anchors this penthouse and is shaded by the dome latticework overhead. A series of open terraces look down into the reading room and out to the city and bay beyond. A flexible, 330-seat multi-purpose room looks to the west and is served by a catering kitchen. An art gallery and outdoor sculpture court contain changing exhibits. Completing the complex is a smaller public meeting room, suitable for use by the Library Commission and other gatherings. The rooftop resources are carefully configured so that as many as four separate functions can take place concurrently.

This inviting and extroverted “public top” to the Library not only celebrates the central civic role of the modern library but intrinsically links this primary cultural and educational resource to one of our greatest physical amenities: San Diego Bay.

The library's inside/outside latticework dome protects the public rooms and terraces from both the summer sun and cool bay breezes. Visually, it differentiates the Library from the commercial high-rises and hotels around it. Symbolically, it ties this building of our time to the regional architectural traditions of our past.