Trends in building, renovating, and retrofitting

Author: Traci Engel Lesneski

As a sponsor of the Library Journal Design Institute held in Bozeman, Montana, earlier this month, MSR had the opportunity to reflect on trends impacting the design of libraries with a mix of librarians, designers, and vendors. For the “Trends in Building, Renovating and Retrofitting” panel discussion, I shared three themes that MSR has been seeing in our work:

1. Design for health and wellness

Human health is a major trend in building design. Visually and physically connecting to the outdoors, encouraging people to move their bodies, and using healthy building materials are all ways buildings can support health and wellness.

Connect to the outdoors

Studies confirm that a visual connection to the outdoors increases focus, a sense of well-being, and productivity. A physical connection to the outdoors is equally critical. Fresh air, a change of scenery, and motivation to move our bodies in general, are all important. Urban libraries can provide access to the outdoors via green roofs or urban walking tours that link to the library. Libraries with more green space can reinforce wellness by connecting to local trails and bike paths, such as Bozeman Public Library’s “Main Street to the Mountains” trail, accessed right from the library grounds.

Get people moving

The critical nature of moving throughout the day to maintain good healthy has been a keen focus lately. A sedentary day has been shown to be as dangerous to our health as smoking. Wearables like Fitbit or Jawbone UP help remind us to get our steps in for the day. Libraries can also promote movement by encouraging the use of stairs by making them easy to find, more convenient to use, and even fun. For example, our design for the Missoula Public Library incorporates stairs that will play musical notes as you climb them.

Sit-to-stand workstations for staff is a trend we’ve seen for some time. Today it’s finally affordable to provide them for all staff. The natural evolution of this trend is to provide sit-to-stand options in the public spaces, as well, to encourage movement and to accommodate different body sizes and needs.

Use healthy building materials

A critical component to designing for health is the use of healthy building materials. According to the Living Futures Institute, creator of the Living Building Challenge, some 90% of the building materials available today contain at least one chemical that is unhealthy for humans. It is extremely difficult to design a project without a so-called “Red-Listed” material (and will be until the product market catches up). Design professionals must demand healthy materials from manufacturers. Clients also have a role in promoting healthy buildings by demanding it from their design teams.

2. Restore (not just sustain)

In order to ensure a healthy future for our planet, we need our buildings to not only be sustainable, but also to give back to the environment.

Incorporate renewables

Photo-voltaic (PV) panels and wind turbines are becoming more commonplace and more efficient. These technologies have dual benefits: they generate energy and, due to their visibility, can also educate library-users about the critical role of renewable energy sources.

Clean and replenish

A type of concrete has been developed that helps to eat smog. Another heals itself. These kinds of cutting-edge technologies are just starting to come into their own. Capturing rainwater to use on site is common now. Regenerative design takes that a step further by recharging the local aquifer. Living walls and green roofs help reduce the heat-island effect, clean air and water, and store rainwater to contribute to the water cycle. They can also support birds, butterflies, and bees.

Feed people and wildlife

Community gardens and landscapes designed to feed wildlife and humans will become more prevalent.


Regenerative design depends upon many systems working together. It takes an integrated approach to design that requires owner, design professionals, and the community of building users to be active participants.

Given all the factors competing for our attention and time, people seek value+ experiences wherever they go—including libraries. Partnerships will become even more important as libraries expand offerings and reach, becoming one stop shops.

The Internet of Things (IoT) will also affect library design and operations in the quest to illustrate relevance and centrality to peoples’ lives. Libraries will become places of ultra-convenience, allowing visitors’ own gadgets to control and tweak their personal experience both inside and outside the building, before and during their visit. By being hyper-intuitive to use, libraries can stay in tune with how people want to access information and change their surroundings. Apps that show visitors where the best open seat is or where his/her study partner is located, or seats that vibrate every hour to remind users to get up and stretch, are examples of how the IoT may change library design.

All three of these trends transcend building type. As highly visible buildings used by a large cross-section of the community, libraries can become exemplars by embracing trends that make a positive impact in their communities.


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