In a major change to downtown Columbia’s landscape, Howard County unveiled new plans for a central library on one of the most iconic pieces of real estate in the planned community, right above the fountain on the town’s Lake Kittamaqundi.
No dollar figures were announced for the 100,000-square-foot library, which will be in Howard County Executive Calvin Ball’s capital budget he will propose Friday. But the renderings from the internationally known architectural firm Heatherwick Studio of London and New York display a dramatic concept of what the firm’s group leader Stuart Wood called “a walkable, planted building that emerges from the lakeside landscape.”
The design is a radical departure from most of Columbia’s bland and boxy buildings in a town known more for its social vision than its architectural flair. The new library will stand on space once occupied by the American Cities Building, Columbia very first office building built in 1967 and in 2019.
A new central library had been projected for years to be built as part of the Merriweather District a half-mile away, next to the Marlow Apartments and across from the Merriweather concert pavilion. That site will now be used to build at least 240 units of mixed-income housing, twice the number as originally called for the Downtown Columbia Plan, according to Greg Fitchitt, president of the Columbia region for the Howard Hughes Corp., the developer of the remaining acreage in Columbia’s urban center.
Gov. Wes Moore, who spoke to hundreds of people gathered for the announcement, also promised unspecified financial support for the project. He called the site “some of most desirable real estate” in Howard County and the state.
As originally conceived by Hughes, the lakeside spot, now serving as surface parking, was originally planned for mixed-used development of commercial, residential and retail space.
In a press release, Wood said the library Columbia’s “socially radical vision inspired us to evolve the traditional library beyond books and into a new type of community center for broader learning and social exchange.” The building “will house an amphitheater for events, play areas and light filled rooms designed for working and learning from cooking to IT. This will be the community center everyone in Howard County deserves.”
Howard County Council Chair Christiana Rigby, one of 10 speakers at the announcement, said there’s one important fact she tells about the county – 95% of residents have a library card.