North of Orlando, the Florida city of Winter Park stretches forth in urban wetlands; its lakes, swamps and palm trees are interspersed with the ubiquitous stuff of American suburbia. But from this dewy landscape, a sort of sculpture garden quietly emerges. On the sinuous northwest shore of Lake Mendsen in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, the Winter Park Library & Events Centre rises in a warm, earthy composition of curves and angles.
Designed by Adjaye Associates, with HuntonBrady Architects as the project’s Architect of Record, the 5,184-square-metre complex asserts a poetic identity alongside its more generic neighbours. But while the library and event venue is a beacon, its presence is a complement, rather than a counterpoint, to its setting. “I wanted to create a campus of knowledge,” says David Adjaye, “in which the contextual site contained a collection of organic relations.” Inspired by both central Florida’s vernacular architecture and its wildlife, the civic and cultural hub translates its natural and historic surroundings into architectural expression.
The mixed-use complex comprises a trio of pavilions: an event centre capped with an elegant rooftop terrace, a two-storey public library and a smaller portico structure that acts as a sheltered outdoor meeting place. Together, it all evokes what Adjaye Associates describes as a “micro-village” of varied sizes and functions synthesized by a common aesthetic. And if the buildings are a riff on a village, the spaces between them interpret the intimacy of Florida’s traditional porches and front gardens on a public scale.
All three volumes sit upon a raised belvedere that overlooks the lake. “Ventilation and airflow are incredibly important elements when designing for hot and humid climates, so we employed building techniques for climate relief that fused the urban grid and the landscape of Martin Luther King, Jr. Park,” explains Adjaye. Angular facades of rose-hued precast concrete create a high thermal mass and are subtly cantilevered above each building’s footprint. “The structures tilt forward, making external canopies unnecessary, and cool and shaded walkways stretch between them.”
The sense of depth and texture created by the curves and projections is amplified by the patterned arches embossed into the concrete and the warm lighting that dances across the facades at night. The arched windows of both the library and the event venue offer a more dramatic gesture, rising from the earth like a dolphin slicing across the waves — and welcoming natural light deep into the buildings’ earthy, red-brown interiors.
Inside, the two main structures feature flexible open floor plates. Designed to be accessible to people of all ages and abilities, the library hosts maker spaces, youth areas and continuing education programs, all framed by a timber core. Next door, the event venue’s main room can be configured as a 320-seat theatre or a 250-seat ballroom, while meeting rooms welcome smaller functions. At the heart of each building, a sculptural staircase conveys visitors upstairs.
While the design sensitively draws from nature, community and culture, the mixed-use program is a similarly ingenious response to economic reality. In a state where subsidies for culture and education are limited, the integration of a revenue-generating event venue helps fund an exceptional public library. It’s an unfortunate necessity — and a problem intelligently addressed through a compelling and sociable hybrid of hospitality and civic life. For better or worse, it takes a village.
This story was published as part of the 2022 March/April issue.
Adjaye Associates and HuntonBrady Architects plot a new library as part of a trio of inspiring characters.