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HKS’ Leonardo González Sangri, along with his friend and fellow architect Scott Taylor of Bernbaum Magadini Architects, put their hearts, heads, souls – and a lot of sweat equity – to work over the last few months, helping build community hubs to promote a culture of reading in West and South Dallas neighborhoods.
Little Free Libraries, or Libros Libres, is a collaborative effort of the Wisconsin-based nonprofit Little Free Libraries, Big Thought, buildingcommunityWORKSHOP (bcWORKSHOP) and the Dallas Public Library.
In 2009, the Little Free Library movement began as a single tribute to one dedicated school teacher. Todd Bol of Wisconsin built the first Little Free Library, fashioned after a little red school house, and placed it on his front lawn as a tribute to his mother, and the rest is history. Today, more than 15,000 Little Free Libraries have been built around the world.
“The Little Free Library concept is basically a small neighborhood book shelter operating under the guiding principle of ‘take a book, leave a book’,” explains González Sangri, whose day job is senior project designer in the HKS education group. “This model makes books available through a sustainable, low-resource, high-access model that supports the health of neighborhoods by fostering collaboration and relationships. The sustainability of the libraries depends on including and engaging neighbors and leaders within each community, who work collaboratively to develop the project and steward the libraries to promote habits of literacy locally, for children and adults, and ultimately build a culture around reading.”
Over the years, González Sangri has been involved with Dallas-based bcWORKSHOP – a non-profit community design collaborative working to improve the livability of communities. bcWORKSHOP asked González Sangri and Taylor to participate by planning, designing and building one of the small book shelters, destined for the Lakewest Family YMCA in West Dallas.
They started working on the project nights and weekends several months ago, holding several community design charrettes and meeting with their project steward, JaMonica Washington of the Lakewest Family YMCA. Their design inspiration came from the YMCA itself: with its playful cues based on athletic activities associated with the YMCA, the Little Free Library evokes the sports world with a low, rectangular platform clad in artificial turf, representing a sports field geared toward a younger user group. The design-build duo envisioned children reading books sitting or lying on the turf, while a second rectangle, a concrete bench, provides adults with a place to sit, rest, read, wait and relax. The third element, a rectangular wooden box painted in YMCA colors, houses the books and safeguards them from the elements. “The combination of seating arrangements and uses are endless, allowing for solitary reading or kids’ story time in a group setting, as well as providing a much needed place to sit in the shade and wait for a ride, or simply take a break under the canopy of crepe myrtles and read. There’s something for people of all ages, promoting cross-generational interaction and literacy,” said González Sangri.
Build It, and They Will Read
“Once we settled on the design, Scott and I gathered materials, many of which were donated. HKS contributed the 3/8-inch LEXAN panels that provide clear visibility of the books, and also protect them from rain, wind and heat,” explained González Sangri. “We spent several evenings building our library off-site, and then brought it to the YMCA on Saturday morning, May 17, for the final touches. Volunteers, including my son Sebastian, joined in, and we assembled and installed it at the YMCA as part of the community ‘build-day’ that bcWORKSHOP had planned around the initiative.”
“Just as we were finishing, a family came by with a young boy, and we invited him to be the first person to give our library a try,” said González Sangri. “He climbed right up on the turf, opened a book and started reading. It was instant gratification.”
“In my view, this project was a huge success on many levels. Our collaborators at the YMCA are very excited about the new addition and feel it will improve the richness of what is already a very tight-knit community,” says González Sangri. “For me personally, it was a very rewarding experience to work on a project for such a good cause, and have the opportunity to design and build at a scale that we don’t get a chance to address very often.” González Sangri says he and Taylor have already had inquiries about replicating their sports-themed design at other Little Free Library locations.
An additional 16 Little Free Libraries were conceived, designed and built as part of the public design and community building initiative, and can be found in various neighborhoods throughout West and South Dallas.
The buildingcommunityWORKSHOP is a Dallas-based nonprofit community design center seeking to improve the livability and viability of communities through the practice of thoughtful design and making. bcWorkshop enriches the lives of citizens by bringing design thinking to areas of our city where resources are most scarce. To do so, the bcWORKSHOP recognizes that it must first understand the social, economic, and environmental issues facing a community before beginning work. http://www.bcworkshop.org.
About Big Thought
Curiosity. Collaboration. Problem-solving. Resilience. In the 21st century, kids need these skills more than ever, and Big Thought can develop them. At Big Thought, our approach to innovative learning combines core academics with community resources to help develop the capacities our young people need to thrive. Big Thought plays an essential role in innovating education in Dallas. http://www.bigthought.org.
About Little Free Library
The Little Free Library mission: to promote a sense of community, reading for children, literacy for adults and libraries around the world. http://littlefreelibrary.org.
HKS, Inc. is a leading architectural design firm ranked among the top six architectural engineering firms, according to Building Design+Construction magazine. Since its founding in 1939, HKS has completed construction projects totaling more than $84 billion in more than 1,498 cities located in 84 countries. The firm operates from 27 offices worldwide.