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The Garden of Youthful Imagination

By Stephen Kelly, managing editor

The Imaginarium Garden combines the organic with the architecture. The circular brick wall, set off by crimson sentry maples, sports 12" x 12" ceramic images of storybook characters by Laurie Eisenhardt. Clockwise: The 20-foot interactive book sculpture; the metal butterfly bench and wood arbor; the decorative, rubberized reading circle; the bronze statue. The organic attributes of the Children's Terrace are crimson sentry maples; a birch tree; Canadian serviceberry; green lane Euonymus; hosta (Ginko Craig); blue fescue; and dwarf fountain grass.

"The children's terrace is architectural on the outside but organic on the inside to foster a sense of discovery. For example, the children's garden is designed with notches and nooks and crannies for kids to explore."-Paul Andriese, ASLA, principal, Grissim Metz Andriese Associates

The Architecture

The $36.8 million, three-story brick Southfield, Michigan Public Library is a spectacular 106,132 square foot edifice that has replaced the 30-year old, 44,000 square foot Civic Center structure. Work began in 2000 and finished in 2003. The project was a large, collaborative effort between the library and its owner representative, Marchesano & Associates; the city of Southfield; architect/engineers Phillips Swager Associates of Dallas, Texas, library specialists; construction manager George Auch Company; and, of course, the landscape architect firm, Grissim Metz Andrieses Associates of Northville, Michigan, Paul Andriese, ASLA, principle (please see the "Building Project Team" sidebar).

Visible from the city's main thoroughfare, Evergreen Road, the library demands attention and gets it. The use of transitional hybrid brick with two-shaded horizontal banding, large "eyebrows" above ratchet windows, and large expanses of glass exude a modern and dynamic character. Now this is a library! I think of my hometown library: an old, wooden, dark building reminiscent of a haunted house that did not exactly beckon one in to partake of its dusty tomes, wardened over by a gray-haired spinster inclined to smack your hand with a ruler for talking or leaving the card catalogue drawer in disarray. No card catalogues or microfilm for Southfield, of course--technology resides throughout.

The uplighting gives the library quite a dramatic look, particularly the fountain and the elliptical three-story glass tower, the "shining beacon of knowledge." The saw-toothed facade of brick and glass are particularly dramatic with illumination against a dark sky

The tapered, elliptical three-story glass tower, a "shining beacon of knowledge," it's been called, is best appreciated at night with the indoor illumination or from the inside. You enter the building from convenient and ample parking via the glass tower. Looking up, you see the base of the third floor conference room (the Southfield Room) that appears to "hover." The effect is achieved through a "cable thrust system with horizontal aluminum receivers fixed to the cable to allow for stress of up to 8,000 pounds." The cables at different levels provide structural stability. Advance Structures Inc., of Tenafly, New Jersey centered Southfield Room and fitting each individually-cut pane of glass to the 14 degree taper of the ellipse.

"The more risks you take, the more pieces you need to bring together. The team achieved what we set out to create, one of the best public libraries in the country."-Denelle Wrightson, AIA, project manager, Phillips Swager Associates

The tower struck me at first as out of character with the building, but its design, I'm told, "introduces the concept of curves and grids used throughout the library design: the mullions of the glass skin of the elliptical tower; the ceiling grids and pixilated reading wall; the undulations of the circulation desk." Right, I knew that. Whatever the explanation, the tower is quite spectacular.

The back view of the $36.8 million, 106,132 square foot, three-story brick Southfield, Michigan Public Library. The design elements of the large grass area and free-form fountain provide a tranquil buffer between the library and the main thoroughfare. "We made sure the loop road (the smaller road to the library) stayed on the outside of the development," explained Paul Andriese, ASLA.

From the other side of the glass tower rises a tall, rectangular Generations Tower, cutting away from the building at an angle, "marked by a curved, plant-like form etched in the limestone, evoking the concept of history and the family tree."

My favorite architectural aspect of the building is the saw-toothed facade of brick and glass, particularly dramatic with illumination against a dark sky.

A person could go on for length discussing the interior architecture and decor, but as this feature focuses on the landscape design, I'll keep it short. The flooring in the tower lobby displays three colors of terrazzo "embeded quotations in free-flowing, swirling and sinuous patterns, with brass lettering."

To the left is a cafe, which leads to the tiered terraces, the fountain and the plantings.

A stairway to the upper floors "echoes the elliptical form of the tower as a physical and symbolic link to inspiration and knowledge." Words and literary phrases related to the themes of each floor emblazon the walls.

The first floor speaks to youth: bright colors, interesting shapes, light maple wood and interactive areas: Gizmo (binoculars and viewing scopes); Storybook Castle and Dragon's Den; Reader's Tree House; and Storytime Space Station. Young adults also have their own area.

A wide angle view of the Imaginarium Garden and its essential elements: the book sculpture; the bronze "Flight of Imagination" sculpture; the butterfly bench and arbor; the bird houses and the ceramic storybook characters on the circular wall that separates the garden from the lawn.

The second floor presents the adult fiction area, finished in light cherry and conveying a warm homey feel for the "codgers." I wonder if they serve bran muffins and tea here?

The third floor, the reference area, is set in darker woods and traditional furniture, which as we all know, is most conducive to serious research.

I laud one design feature in particular: staff services, computer labs, study rooms, fireplaces (now that's cool), and restrooms are located in the same location on each floor, which keeps down the number of "Excuse me, where's the bathroom?" inquires.

Item List.

1. Four-inch depth shredded bark mulch in planting and evergreen tree beds.

2. Sodded lawn on four-inch depth topsoil.

3. Black aluminum edging between lawn and landscape bed.

4. Precast concrete pavers.

5. One-hundred twenty-foot free-form pool and fountain.

6. Eighteen inch crowned island .

7. Four-inch sodded lawn on four-inch topsoil.

8. Twelve-inch high crowned island.

It's not often you here "Where's the fireplace?" in a library setting. Hmm, I wonder if Fahrenheit 451 is anywhere near the fireplace on floor two?

To the left of the lobby hunkers a 170-seat auditorium and conference room. The exit at the bottom of the auditorium accesses the Reading and Terrace Garden.

On a final note regarding the architecture, I'm told there's limestone around the base of the building. It's to create a "sense of human scale at the pedestrian level." If there's one thing this building isn't, it's pedestrian. The building is, well, I'm jealous it's not my hometown library. It's beautiful, inspiring, designed for comfort, ease of use, and eminently functional. And, as you'll, see, the landscape design is inspired.

The Landscape Design

The former landscape architect for Southfield, Lauren McGuire, recommended Grissim Metz Andriese Associates for the landscape design. Grissim's multiple award-winning library design projects made the firm the logical candidate (see "The Firm's Library Projects" sidebar). In 2000, the firm joined the team effort to draw up the site plan. Paul Andriese, ASLA, principle, was the man on site from the beginning to the final product.

"It (the site plan) was a political hot potato," Paul Andriese, ASLA, told LASN. The initial debate was over a baseball field, long in place but in poor condition. The preliminary site plan called for razing the ball field to make room for the ample parking the new library required. The ball field's demise engender nostalgia in some, as many locals had played on that field in their youth. "Why rip up the field for a parking lot," some argued.

The Reading Terrace is paved with precast concrete in a herringbone pattern. Mr. Andriese brings a special touch with triangular cuts to the pavers where they meet the crimson sentry maples, Keteleen junipers, and purple leaf winter creepers. The paving jogs were designed to complement the similar architecture of the library windows. Myrtle surrounds the circle of gray pavers. Little Princess, sergeant crab apples, and Stella D'oro (day lily) form a decorative crescent.

"Do you want to let the ball field drive the entire Civic Center plan?" Mr. Andriese countered.

The ball field went ("Nostalgia isn't what it used to be," to quote the title of Simone Signoret's autobiography).

The site plan also called for rerouting the loop road. "We made sure the loop road stayed on the outside of the development," Mr. Andriese explained. Linden trees now line the loop road. The fan-shaped parking lot sports a perimeter of grass and 18 islands of grass, Cleveland select pear trees, flowering and shape trees, low evergreen hedges and perennials to soften and freshen the hard surfaces.

The further challenges were balancing what the city, library and other parties wanted and the esthetics of the landscape design.

"We have to respond to what's going on architecturally," noted Mr. Andriese. For instance, the city wanted a pool and fountain. Mr. Andriese's design was a 120-foot free-form pool that was sketched on the site plan. The "organic" shape of the pool, as he describes it, "responds to the hard, geometrical lines" of the building. The falling water and the lawn area bring the sounds and smells of nature, another response to the hard lines.

"We wanted to make sure the frontage was not a parking lot, but green and with a water feature." Mr. Andriese calls the fountain a "highlight feature," as it catches the attention of passerbys on Evergreen Road, the major thoroughfare in front of the Civic Center. The addition of the fountain required a consultant, Mr. Andriese noted.

From this angle of the Children's Terrace you can see the book sculpture in the Imaginarium Garden. A birch trees is in the foreground; the crimson sentry maples are clearly defined against the concrete wall. The markers on the wall designate the positions for the ceramic storybook characters.

Grissim also designed the landscape with the sheer size of the building in mind. "You have to break down the scale to something more human," asserted Mr. Andriese, which he accomplished by "adding detail and scale to human space--the smaller trees, low walls" (like theoval-shaped brick terrace he designed for the library entrance).

While some of the landscape design counters the architecture, other aspects complement and enhance. The triangular cuts in the concrete pavers on the Reading Terrace that face the pool mimic the saw-toothed facade of brick and glass facing Evergreen Road.

The terraces and garden on the pool side are of particular interest. "The library wanted a children's area with niches where the kids could experience different spatial areas and scale changes," Mr. Andriese explained. They didn't want just one area. At first I though of a club house, but then told the architect, 'You're creative, come up with a center piece.'" That center piece is a 20-foot book sculpture that peeks over the oval brick wall and is clearly seen from the highway. This is not a museum piece with "Don't touch!" signs, but one that kids can crawl on and in.

The Imaginarium, the name for the children's garden, is "architectural on the outside (a circular brick fence) but organic on the inside," explained Mr. Andriese. "This is the essence of what a children's garden should be, the relating of the natural and man-made," he added. The organic attributes of the Children's Terrace are crimson sentry maples; a birch tree; green lane Euonymus; hosta (Ginko Craig); blue fescue; and dwarf fountain grass.

A closer look at the bronze Journey of Imagination emerging from lavendar, and the bird houses. The ornamental grasses are zebra and blue oat.

As you enter the garden area, you walk on distinctive, differing pathways of pavers through a curious wonderland. You come upon a bronze cast sculpture, Journeys of the Imagination, by artist Gary Price, representing a boy riding a paper airplane. A little further on, tall, slender bird houses pop into view (suggested by the landscape architect and purchased by the librarian in New England). A sunken, rubberized circle of bright colors in the shape of a star attracts kids to sit. This is the Storytelling Pit, but I suspect the kids will come up with alternative, inventive play uses.

As the path weaves, you arrive at a wood arbor through which is framed a whimsical, metal butterfly bench. Tables, chairs and more traditional metal benches provide rest for the weary legs of parents waiting for their children to finish exploring, but as Mr. Andriese told LASN, "The kids don't want to leave." It's understandable. I suspect adults linger here as well.

The view of the back of the library, the Reading Terrace, and a bit of the 120-foot free-form pool. Mr. Andriese used a consultant for the fountain. Keteleen junipers line the pool edge.

The library cafe exits onto the Reading Terrace, as does the auditorium. Mr. Andriese said the auditorium exit presented a challenge, as it has theatre seating and descends lower than the cafe exit. As both the cafe and auditorium lead onto the same terrace, it was necessary to make two terrace levels, not such an easy thing to do, Mr. Andriese assured us. The auditorium exits onto the lower aspect of the Reading Terrace near a circle of gray pavers arched by a decorative crescent of greenery: Little Princess, sergeant crab apple trees, and Stella D'oro (day lily). You step up to the second terrace, elliptically carved in precast concrete of a herringbone pattern, ending in triangular cutouts that point to crimson sentry maples, Keteleen junipers, and purple leaf winter creepers. The fountain arises from the southwestern edge of the Reading Terrace.

The landscape design seems a perfect marriage to the architecture: bold, inventive, exploratory, striking; a landscape that softens and rounds the hard architectural lines and brings the beauty and contemplative tranquility of nature's flora in a setting that both adults and children can cherish.


Building Project Team

Southfield Public Library
26300 Evergreen Rd
PO Box 2055
Southfield, Michigan 48076
Douglas A. Zyskowski,
City Librarian
Carol Mueller,

Deputy City Librarian >Owner's Representative
Marchesano & Associates
46337 Quail Ridge Drive
Plymouth, Michigan 48170
Tom Marchesano, PE

City of Southfield
Brenda L. Lawrence

City Council
Jonathan Brateman
Myron A. Frasier
Sylvia Jordan
Sidney Lantz
John D. Lovejoy
Nida R. Samona
Kenson J. Siver

Library Board
Bernard M. Cohen
Darryl G. Edwards
Stuart A. Lebenbom
Carole J. McCollough
Eunice M. Rose
Library Building Authority
John E. Beras
Samuel P. Havis
Kenneth Neumann
James Scharret
Thomas Vukonich

City Administrator
Donald J. Gross

City Clerk
Nancy L.M. Banks

City Treasurer
Roman J. Gronkowski

Design & Construction Team

Architect, Interior Designer, Theme Interior and
Interactive Exhibit Designer, M/E/P Engineer

Phillips Swager Associates (PSA)
7557 Rambler Road
Suite 670
Dallas, Texas 75231-2302
Denelle C. Wrightson, AIA
Eddie Davis, AIA
Dirk Dalhausser, AIA

Construction Manager
George W. Auch Company
735 S. Paddock Street
Pontiac, Michigan 48341-3241
Dennis R. Smith, Project Manager
Landscape Architect
Grissim Metz Andriese Assoc., Inc.
300 East Cady Street
Northville, Michigan 48167
Paul Andriese, ASLA,

Thematic Environment Design/Build Contractor
Creative Environs, Inc.
11328 Business Park Blvd.
Jacksonville, Fl 32256

AudioVisual Consultant/Acoustical Consultant, WJHW
4801 Spring Valley Suite 113
Dallas, Texas 75244

Civil Engineer
Hubbell Roth & Clark, Inc.
555 Hulet Drive
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan 48303
Gary Tressel

Subcontractor, Glass Tower
Advance Structures Inc.
80 E. Clinton Avenue
Tenafly, NJ 07670

Lighting Consultant
Gary Steffy Lighting Design
2900 South State Street, Suite 12
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104

Technology Consultants
Innovate Technology Consult.
37558 Hills Tech Drive
Farmington Hills, Michigan 48331
Jim Qualls

Cinnabar Telecommunications
4431 Southmoor Lane
W. Bloomfield, MI 48323
Geri Nassar

ETS Engineering
Doug Sayles

Meadows & Co. Photography
P.O. Box 203
Birmingham, Michigan 48012
Gene Meadows

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June 15, 2019, 10:22 pm PDT

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