Home    Site Search   Contact Us     Subscribe




Native American History in Tomorrow's Library: Henry Madden Library at California State University, Fresno, by AC Martin Partners in association with RMJM Hillier

Fresno, California: A new campus library looks to the future while embodying Fresno's Native American and agricultural heritage.

By ArchNewsNow
August 20, 2007

The $105 million renovation and addition to the Henry Madden Library at California State University, Fresno, will honor the long legacy of one of the region’s Native American tribes while incorporating the latest technology and innovative library design solutions. With an elliptical entry tower whose wooden lattice and zinc sunscreen recall the tribe’s woven baskets, as well as other details representing Native American culture, the 370,000-square-foot library will be the largest in the 23-campus California State University system when completed in 2008.


The design grew out of an unusual collaboration involving AC Martin Partners in association with RMJM Hillier (formerly Hillier Architecture); Michael Gorman, Dean of Library Services for Fresno State; and the Table Mountain Rancheria, a federally recognized American Indian tribe comprising members of the Mono-Chukchansi tribe. Seeking to expand the crowded, obsolete Madden Library built in the 1950s and 1960s, Fresno State selected the two design firms in 2004 for what was planned as a $95 million project. Early on, the architects took advantage of the narrow site to create a long north-facing façade that brings in natural light with extensive glazing. Seeking to break up the building’s length with distinctive forms to help with wayfinding, the team developed an elliptical tower resembling a basket to mark the main entry. “I had been to the Native American collection at the Sierra Mono Museum in North Fork,” says David Martin, FAIA, design principal and co-chairman of AC Martin Partners, “and so I was aware of the importance of the region’s Native American basket-weaving traditions. We were also thinking of the symbolic resonance of the basket as a container of knowledge.”


Intrigued by the possibility of expanding on the Native American themes, officials at Fresno State showed early drawings of the building to the Table Mountain Rancheria, which operates Table Mountain Casino in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Fresno County, and which has a history of providing charitable contributions to education, healthcare, and other community causes. The tribe donated $10 million – the largest cash gift in the history of the university – to fund the integration of Native American-inspired elements into the Madden Library’s architecture and furnishings.


The tribe places a strong emphasis on preserving its cultural legacy, seeking out and buying back the highly sophisticated baskets woven by its members as long ago as the 1800s. The design team met with elders of the tribe and studied its significant collection of baskets for inspiration. The four-story elliptical tower at the main entrance demonstrates the woven patterns of baskets with three layers: an angled wood lattice, a zinc sunscreen, and a glass curtain wall. The tower anchors a metal staircase with steps that incorporate a woven pattern.


With the tribe’s permission, the designers also drew on graphic patterns found on the baskets, representing them abstractly in custom fabrics used in the building’s furniture. A documentary by Susan Narduli demonstrating the tribe’s process of weaving baskets (a process that can often take a year or more) will be digitally projected on the elevator walls along the grand staircase, visible from both inside and outside the new building. Other elements commemorate Fresno’s long-standing agricultural heritage, with precast concrete imprinted with abstract patterns representing aerial views of the local fields. Materials for the building also include White Oak wood and Sierra granite, reflecting materials found throughout Central California and the Sierra Nevada.


To the west of the new library, the Peace Garden features monuments to Martin Luther King, Jr., César Chávez, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jane Addams. Landscaping in the Peace Garden and elsewhere on the library grounds includes native plants, trees, and grasses, many of which are the same varieties that the Table Mountain tribe uses to weave baskets. The names of the plants are inscribed in granite benches surrounding the garden.


The incorporation of local Native American elements into the design makes the library a landmark destination at the center of campus, intended to bring together students, faculty, and community members – an important function in an age when technology often makes it easy for students to work on their own using laptops, missing out on opportunities for vital collaboration and the exchange of ideas.


In addressing these challenges, the design team worked extensively with Dean of Library Services Michael Gorman, who was president of the American Library Association at the time that the project began. Gorman is the author of the 2003 book The Enduring Library: Technology, Tradition, and the Quest for Balance, as well as numerous other publications on the future of libraries. His observations about how today’s students work in libraries, especially at commuter colleges like Fresno State, informed the design of spaces. The library plays an essential role as an on-campus place for study, social interaction, and relaxation and recharging in between classes. Although the library has primarily open floor-plans, there will be a variety of seating areas, including comfortable places tucked away where patrons can retreat for quiet reading and studying. Areas designed to encourage students to meet and hang out include a large ground-floor foyer with seating, built-in seating on the library’s grand staircase, and a café on the second level. All public areas and the grand two-story reading room are grouped at the north side of the building to give the building’s occupants expansive views of the Peace Garden and campus, and to take advantage of natural light.


While the advent of the Internet initially led many to predict the demise of the book, the library’s collection has been growing at a rate of roughly 20,000 volumes per year. “It was important that the library continue to expand its strong collection,” says Martin. “Computers are important for getting information, but books are important for gaining knowledge.” The new library not only provides much more space than the old one, it also employs compact moveable stacks that will nearly double the old building’s book storage area, which currently houses about one million volumes.


The library’s innovative technologies include embedded microchips for book tracking and advanced cataloguing databases that simplify the research process. To promote adaptability for future needs, the spaces are flexibly designed, with power, data, and furniture modules interchangeable in 50% of the building’s spaces.


The new Madden Library will serve as an iconic presence at the heart of campus, symbolizing the crucial intellectual and social role the library plays in modern academic life. While the facility looks to the past by commemorating local Native American history, its cutting-edge innovations make it a model for the library of the future.


Project Credits


Client: California State University, Fresno – Henry Madden Library

Estimated Completion Date: December 2008

Architect-of-Record: AC Martin Partners

AC Martin Team: David Martin (Principal Designer), Douglas Fisher (Project Manager), Chris King (Project Designer)

Associate Architect, Planning & Interiors: RMJM Hillier (formerly Hillier Architecture)

RMJM Hillier Team: Joseph C. Rizzo, AIA, ALA (Principal), Stephen Beacham (Associate Principal/Director for Interior Architecture), Weichi Chen (Associate Principal/Senior Project Designer), Dade Van Der Werf (Project Designer)

Owner’s Representative: Robert Boyd, Associate Vice President, Facilities Management, CSU Fresno

Construction Manager/General Contractor: Swinerton Builders

Landscape Architect, Native Garden: Narduli Studio

Landscape Architect: Robert Boro


AC Martin Partners, Inc. (ACMP) is an integrated architecture, engineering, and planning firm based in Los Angeles. The firm's wide range of clients includes corporations, government agencies, developers, cultural organizations, and educational institutions. ACMP has created master plans for Chapman University, Downtown LA’s Grand Avenue, and Downtown Fresno, among others. Founded in 1906 by Albert C. Martin Sr., the firm continues to shape the Southern Californian region, creating user-focused, innovative, sustainable, and aesthetic landmarks for the 21st century.


RMJM Hillier is the North American division of RMJM Group, an international practice with 1,100 people and 17 offices across the United States, Europe, Middle East, and Asia. The firm provides services in architecture, interior design, master planning, urban design, historic preservation, arts consultancy, land planning, landscape design, environmental graphics, and computer visualization. RMJM Hillier and RMJM Group have received over 300 awards for design excellence, environmental responsibility, and professional achievement over the past 50 years.

(click on pictures to enlarge)

(Shimahara Illustration)
Designed to be the “library of the future” – the Henry Madden Library will stand as a beacon of light in California’s Central Valley, housing the largest collection of volumes of any California State University.

(AC Martin Partners)
Native Americans have been weaving organic materials for centuries, following tribal guidelines of form and function. By translating the construction of the native basket (considered to be a vessel for knowledge) into steel and wood, sculptural forms of architecture are achieved.

(AC Martin Partners)
Visually simple, yet internally complex, the iconic entry will incorporate steel, zinc, and wood in its construction.

(RMJM Hillier)
Large translucent spaces harvest natural light without exposing sensitive books and manuscripts to its harmful effects.

(RMJM Hillier)
The building’s internal circulation is organized around a series of stairs and landings with the main stair traversing the entire northern wall and guiding the visitor through the heart of library.

(RMJM Hillier)
Re-thinking the idea of the “traditional” library, the open spaces and light-filled reading rooms will be more user-friendly than its predecessors.

(Susan Narduli Studio)
An art film performance piece projected onto the central column rising up through each floor will featire a Native American woman constructing a basket row-by-row in a show that will take 365 days to complete.

(Susan Narduli Studio)
Cradled by native trees and plants, the translucent entry allows nature to spill into the building season after season.

(Susan Narduli Studio)
The building’s unique translucent curtain wall along the northern elevation, overlooks the campus “Peace Garden,” designed as a quiet space for reflection and meditation.

(AC Martin Partners)
The elaborate basket weavings of the Table Mountain Ranchería, part of the larger Mono Nation, were studied as the basis for many of the decorative features found throughout the library.

(AC Martin Partners)
Historic Native American patterns will be echoed in the interior décor of the library.

(RMJM Hillier)
The Madden Library will have five levels, each with distinct functions – including the President of the University’s office.

(Shimahara Illustration)
Southern elevation study

(Shimahara Illustration)
Western elevation study

(AC Martin Partners)
Site plan: the library will become the new “information hub” of the university.

© 2007