Traverwood Branch

Opened June 30, 2008

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Architects: Van Tine|Guthrie Studio
Construction Manager: O’Neal Construction, Inc.
Landscape Architects: Grissim Metz Andriese Associates

Watch "Up From Ashes", a documentary film about the making of the Traverwood Branch Library.

Go to the page for this video to get downloadable and high-quality versions.


About the Traverwood Branch Library

The Traverwood Branch Library is situated on 4.34 acres located in the southwest corner of Traverwood Drive and Huron Parkway in Ann Arbor. The Branch is a one-story building of approximately 16,500 square feet which replaced the Northeast Branch of AADL, located in Plymouth Mall. It opened June 30, 2008.

The Traverwood Branch serves as a community-based learning center that delivers superior customer service, primarily to the residents of the northeast quadrant of Ann Arbor. While its mission is to deliver traditional library services, the facility also includes a casual study area with seating for 14 and vending, a laptop computer bar with seating for nine, and a meeting room with seating for 90.

The Branch houses an updated collection, consisting of traditional materials, such as books, magazines, and DVDs. The facility contains a reading room for comfortable, leisurely reading, four study and tutor rooms, and self-service stations for convenient checkout. Electronic resources include 24 public computer terminals, 20 of are located in an Electronic Training classroom, and wireless internet access.

The Traverwood Branch is designed to have as little impact on natural landscape features as possible. Sustainable design features include an innovative stormwater management system and the reuse of harvested ash trees from the building site. A rain garden is located on the south side of the building. The design of the Branch takes advantage of natural day lighting.

Both the building and the surrounding landscape capitalize on environmental principles, thereby allowing the overall project to operate more in harmony with the ecosystem and the community in which it serves.

The L-shaped design of the building is echoed throughout its design and construction with the repeated use of angles, which presented both architectural opportunities and challenges. Far from rigid rectilinear symmetry, the building suggests geometric playfulness and curiosity about the interaction between line and three-dimensional form. The simple act of pouring concrete was complicated by the unusual design, and the woodwork, composed of Ash milled from trees on the site, defies the imagination, spreading up from the floor across a portion of the building’s walls and even curving along a wavy expanse in precisely cut concentric pieces.

Several years ago an invasive species of beetle began making its home on the Ash trees of Southeastern Michigan. While the adult Emerald Ash Borer munched innocuously on the trees’ deciduous leaves, its larvae attacked the inner bark, making fascinating but harmful trails along the trunk, destroying the trees’ ability to distribute nutrients. The Emerald Ash Borer proved unstoppable, killing more than 30 million ash trees in southeastern Michigan alone. The results are clearly visible on the Northeast side of town; sunlight streams down into forests where trees once stood and bugs and other animals have begun making their homes in the fallen logs strewn throughout wooded areas.

During the initial investigation of the Traverwood site, the area was found to contain many Ash trees. AADL applied for and received a $30,000 grant from the Southeast Michigan Resource Conservation & Development Council to remove and incorporate the trees in the new building’s construction, harkening back to a time when building materials of necessity came from the surrounding area. Echoing this shift in time, draft horses were brought in to remove the trees from the site, eliminating the need to damage or fall nearby trees in the removal process. This unusual method was featured on Michigan Radio’s Environment Report in March of 2007. Following their removal from the site, AADL contracted Johnson Hardwoods to mill the trees for use in flooring and shelving for the Traverwood Branch. A few of the trees were left intact and used as support beams along a row of windows on the south wing of the building to dramatic effect. The trunks interact beautifully with the uninterrupted expanse of green trees behind the building, and visitors can inspect the Emerald Ash Borer’s damage curving over the surface of the beams.

“It is in the nature of any organic building to grow from within on its site: come out of the ground an organism into the light—the ground itself held always as a component part of the building itself…. A building dignified as a tree in the midst of Nature.”
Frank Lloyd Wright, Autobiography

The building’s site, a triangular portion of land at the intersection of Traverwood Drive and Huron Parkway, runs along the Stapp Nature Preserve at its rear. The unusual shape of the lot and the extensive wooded area dictated the shape of the building, which, in deference to the natural setting, hugs the corner in an L-shape. This led to an ingenious solution to an ongoing problem in public library design: creating a space that serves the entire community well. While some people come to the library for quiet study and research, others view it as a community gathering space or a place for children to explore. Public libraries are charged with being all of these things, and meeting the needs of many different people simultaneously presents a tremendous challenge. Traverwood, with its L-shape, meets this dilemma head-on. The library’s meeting room and children’s area occupy the western wing of the building, while the adult collection and quiet reading room spread along the south wing. The reading room in particular is acoustically remote from the children’s area. The building’s high ceilings and central entrance point maintain a sense of cohesion and connection between the two spaces.

Like all of AADL’s new buildings, Traverwood incorporates innovative features that minimize its impact on the environment. Beyond taking the striking natural landscape into consideration when planning the building, Traverwood has been designed to make sure the surrounding natural area is not harmfully impacted by its presence. Traverwood features an innovative stormwater management system that captures water flowing off the roof through the use of two scuppers or downspouts. On rainy days visitors will be able to watch the water cascading past as it makes its way into an underground system of pipes. The water is then held underground and gradually released into a retention pond at the south end of the site.

Traverwood’s playful 21st Century design stands in stark contrast to the Carnegie libraries built at the turn of the last century. At the corner of State and Huron in downtown Ann Arbor, the façade of the city’s own Carnegie library stands alone, moored by steel girders at the edge of a modern construction site. Its strong columns and arches reflect an architectural style of long ago, proclaiming the temple of knowledge they used to contain. Today’s modern public libraries no longer strive to emulate classical architecture. Yet, as Traverwood and AADL’s other recently completed branches, Malletts Creek (2004) and Pittsfield (2006), demonstrate, they still seek to carve an impressive silhouette. Rather than looking to the past, however, AADL’s new branches embrace the future. Welcoming and accessible, both literally and figuratively, they look forward to the future of libraries in their community, and in this way have taken on the important mission of educating the public about sustainable design and construction. Each of AADL’s new branches has been designed with sustainability in mind, incorporating green building technology throughout its construction.

The Library Branch Expansion Project

The vision of branch libraries for the Ann Arbor Library system began with former Library Director Homer Chance. Recognizing the need for access to materials and facilities beyond the Downtown Library, Chance opened the first branch library in Ann Arbor - the Loving Branch - in 1965. In 1977 the West Branch opened its doors and the Northeast Branch began serving the community in 1981.

In 1997, with a goal of providing superior public library services into the future, the Library embarked on a Facilities Need Analysis of the library system by consultant David Smith. His study found the three branch libraries severely lacking in square footage to meet current and future public needs.

Using data gathered in surveys, on-site interviews, and estimates of projected material collection sizes in the year 2020, Smith’s study called for the construction of several larger branch libraries to serve the long-term community needs. These would accommodate projected collection sizes and provide adequate meeting, event, storytime and teen spaces, as well as areas for growing technology and staff work areas.

Since 1997, the Library has been working toward the goal of creating these larger, more functional branches constructed within the Library’s current authorized millage.

  • In January 2004, the 14,000 square foot Malletts Creek Branch opened its doors on Eisenhower Parkway in Ann Arbor. This replacement for the 39-year-old Loving Branch features expanded program areas seating 80 people, a collection of over 47,000 items, a vending area with seats for 20 people and state-of-the-art technology, including 28 computer terminals and a computer training center. Since the opening of the Malletts Creek Branch, circulation and program attendance figures have skyrocketed and are a dramatic increase over those of the former Loving Branch.
  • In March 2006, the 14,600 square foot Pittsfield Branch of the Ann Arbor District Library was opened on Oak Valley Drive. This facility houses a program/meeting room which seats up to 100 individuals, a reading room, study areas and state-of-the-art technology. As a new new addition to the Ann Arbor District Library branch system, the Pittsfield Branch serves an ever-expanding population in a growing area of the Ann Arbor district.
  • This new branch on Traverwood Drive and Huron Parkway is the third step in the Library Branch Expansion Project.

Northeast Branch

The Northeast Branch was situated in the same location in the Plymouth Road Mall for approximately twenty-four years. During that time, in an effort to keep pace with the demand for services, the original space expanded twice and underwent a complete renovation in 2001. New carpeting, improved lighting, a renovated program and storytime room were added in an effort to make cosmetic changes until a site for a new branch could be located. Despite these expansions and renovations, the Northeast Branch lacked the space and service considerations outlined by David Smith’s 1997 study.

Traverwood Branch Image Gallery

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