The new two-story Holgate Library for Multnomah County Library in Southeast Portland will be one of the largest libraries in the county, tripling the size of the original 1971 building to accommodate one of the city’s most diverse communities. Boasting a mass timber structure, the library is designed to foster a culture of civic pride, offering healthy and inspiring spaces with ample connections to nature to provide patrons of all ages and backgrounds with an uplifting and welcoming library experience.
Sitting prominently along SE Holgate Boulevard, the building is designed as a distinctive inward folding form along the north and south, framing respective outdoor spaces and welcoming communities in. Mass timber canopies extend to receive patrons, providing cover from weather at both entry points—from the parking lot on the north side and Holgate Boulevard on the south.
Taking inspiration from the fluttering wings of the butterfly—a universal symbol of resilience, hope, beauty and transformation—the building is wrapped in custom chevron-patterned metal cladding, creating a calming yet dynamic rhythmic play of light and shadow. Larger areas of glass offer visibility into the children’s library and flexible meeting spaces on the ground floor, activating and connecting spaces inside and out. In the lobby, the shimmering hues of butterfly wing scales inspire the design of an artful screen lining the stairway up to the main reading room on the second floor. The screen’s composition of small resin discs creates animated moments of color and light as patrons ascend.
Utilizing a Design Justice lens, we held extensive community engagement sessions to ensure the building would authentically represent its patrons. This resulted in flexible programming and spaces including a large play and learning area for families, a dedicated teen room, and an outdoor plaza for gathering. Holgate Library’s interior design, exterior color and patterns were publicly voted on by the community. The designs of local artists that will enliven the lobby and exterior were also guided by extensive community input. At every turn, the design will reflect its patrons’ aspirations to make the new library an inclusive celebration of people and place.