pleasant hill library interior

BCJ’s Pleasant Hill Library Is Designed to Spark Creativity

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s welcoming, flexible public destination aims to connect people with ideas and each other.

The first thing that visitors see when they enter the new public library in Pleasant Hill, California, is a selection of the latest books, arrayed on six maple tables. If the tables look familiar, you’re not mistaken— they are cousins of the promotional displays for iPads and MacBooks in the Apple stores designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ), the architects of the library. 

The retail-style welcome sets the tone for a spacious, transparent 24,000-square-foot building, in which openness and flexibility signal a readiness to adapt to whatever the future holds. “So many libraries are built around the size of the collection, but we were really focused on behavior and how each space could support different activities throughout the day,” says Michael Kross, lead designer and project manager at BCJ. 

“You can tell when it’s people’s first time here. You can see their jaws drop.” 

Patrick Remer, the library’s manager

Flexible Zones Foster Learning and Exploring

Given the dramatic evolution of libraries, the Bay Area bedroom community’s choice to go with a firm with little experience designing one was shrewd. BCJ, known for delivering warm Modernism at a variety of scales, provides both big sweeping gestures and thoughtful, intimate moments. 

Supported by exposed steel framing, the free-span main space is 200 feet long, and the maple-lined butterfly roof soars to 24 feet at its south-facing apex. Glass curtain walls at both ends visually extend the space outward, and rows of clerestory windows—both external and internal—draw natural light through the $24 million, all-electric building, which is targeting net-zero carbon. 

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Pleasant Hill Library entrance

Meanwhile, three pavilions off the main hall offer more intimate environments. In the enclosed “retreat,” a corner window and its accompanying L-shaped window seat immerse you in the native-centric landscape just outside, designed by Einwiller Kuehl. And just beyond the children’s collection, a small playground with enormous 100-year-old eucalyptus sections salvaged by Evan Shively at Arborica gives kids a chance to let loose. 

“You can tell when it’s people’s first time here,” says Patrick Remer, the library’s manager. “They’re overcome by the beauty of the materials and the light. You can see their jaws drop.” 

Library display tables
Work space inside the library

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