Architect: Skidmore, Owings and Merrill
Address: 800 E. Broad St.
Designed by the internationally renowned firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the Library of Virginia brings a level of significance and sophistication to a critically civic stretch of East Broad Street. According to the architect, the structure was intended to be “a catalyst for reviving the city’s downtown.”
And it is an undeniably civic building, both in experience and aesthetic. In fact, its presence is almost camouflaged next to City Hall and near the federal courthouse. This stately, symmetrical composition is a backdrop to the trees on Broad Street; the large, angular metal awning extends over a raised entrance.
The library interior continues the same handsome maturity the facade exudes. A generous atrium serves as an interior courtyard, with views to the upper surrounding book stacks, which face an interior wall of glass. One of the nicest features of the design is the ceiling, a series of wide scoops that carry in soft light from clerestories in the library’s wings. The circulation path is clear and understandable, leading the visitor to research stations, study areas and more than 700,000 volumes. The building’s detailing is reserved but comfortable, with wood furniture complementing metal accents in mid-sized reading rooms.
However, the experience the library exterior gives the pedestrian is less accommodating. The sidewalk space is sparse and the building lacks in first floor transparency. Its mass extends across the whole block and is slightly removed from the street edge. While this creates a sense of monumentality and scale that is appropriate for the site, it isn’t an engaging structure. The Library of Virginia is nonetheless one of the most handsome buildings in Richmond, and while perhaps not a catalyst, certainly a positive institution on Broad Street.