The South Central Regional Library reflects Louisville’s landscape with a stainless steel facade

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The South Central Regional Library in Louisville, Kentucky was designed by MSR Design JRA Architects. (Brandon Stengel)

The South Central Regional Library, located in Louisville, Kentucky, is the second project realized through the Louisville Free Public Library’s 12-year master plan; dating back to 2008, the plan calls for the construction of three regional libraries within Jefferson County to accommodate underserved communities and a growing population. The nearly 40,000-square-foot project was designed by MSR Design—the Minneapolis-based firm also produced the master plan—and Kentucky-based firm JRA Architects, and establishes a noteworthy presence with a facade of ribbed stainless steel panels.

In recent years, libraries across the United States have taken on roles and responsibilities outside of lending books, and are increasingly seen as anchor social institutions for neighborhoods and municipalities. This outward-looking character informed the design and layout of the project; the longitudinal volume emerges from behind a landscaped campus and is composed of largely column-free space to further flexibility of use on a short and long-term basis.

The pre-embossed steel facade panels complement the landscaped setting and reflect the surrounding canopy, dappled light, and weather conditions. MSR Design and JRA Architects collaborated closely with structural engineer Tetra Tech to bring those same qualities within the project’s expansive floor plate; the canopied and creased massing of the facade both reduces and increases solar gain at appropriate times and bounces daylight throughout the interior. “By using energy and daylight analysis software early in the design phase, the architects shaped the geometry to maximize daylight and minimize energy use,” said MSR Design principal Matthew Kruntorad. “Although the south-facing facade appears complex in form, it is a simple sweep of slanted overhangs, which evolved in response to the intensive solar study; and the use of building information modeling enabled accurate building geometry and provided accurate sectional information to aid in facade layout.”

Louisville’s American Roofing and Metal handled the fabrication and installation of the steel facade panels, with Buffalo-based manufacturer Rigidized Metals signed on for their ribbed embossing—a detail that reduced the weight of the panels and heightened their tactile design. There are over 300 panels found across the facade; each is composed of three panels stitched together to measure 13″ by 117″, and all were fabricated from the same 4′ by 10′ stainless steel sheet to reduce waste.

Budgets are commonly tight for community projects and incorporating a fairly straightforward facade system allowed for the employ of local contractors. The steel facade is backed by a typical flat lock system with all four panel edges interlocked with abutting panels—think oversized shingles—and anchored to the substrate with clips. “The design team worked closely with the structural engineer and the construction manager early in the design phase to clarify and articulate the intended means and methods,” continued Kruntorad. “By establishing the correct geometry of the steel frame, the light gauge steel installation was kept as simple as possible while meeting the performance intent.”