Harper College Library

Palatine, Illinois

Case Study

Newly Renovated Library Fosters Active Learning for Students and Staff

The renovation of Harper College Library marks an inevitable paradigm shift, transforming a traditional library space into a modern learning hub. The design centered around the idea of a third place for students, a neutral ground where collaboration and relaxation are key. Sylvia Kowalk, Principle Director of Interior Design at Legat Architects, stated that principles of active design also played a large part.

Opening the building to allow for daylight, encouraging collaboration and offering a wide range of spaces for multiple uses were all required to support the needs of students and staff as well as the long-standing vision of the library.

The concrete walls that once subdivided the library into dark and closed off areas were removed to allow for bright and accessible spaces, including the large inviting atrium connecting all three floors. Once-opaque walls transitioned to clear glass to promote natural lighting and transparency across the building, reducing the need for artificial light and benefiting the well-being of students and staff. The wide open spaces facilitate collaboration and allow for easy reconfiguration of furniture.

We’ve heard a lot of feedback from students and staff. They love the space and are very happy with it.

– Sylvia Kowalk, Principal Director of Interior Design at Legat Architects

Unique workspaces are located across the library and on each of the floors. At first glance, many serve group settings, from tutoring and writing at joint tables to relaxed discussion in lounge seating areas. Others serve far more specific uses: a Maker’s Shop, a workshop designated for content creation; a mini theater with a projection screen and lounge seating; a lecture or meeting room; and recording studios. Individual spaces for quiet heads-down work are scattered throughout the third floor with shelves of books providing acoustical barriers. The grand staircase acts as a learning link, a place for students to meet and study while enjoying the view.

The whole renovation aligns with Harper Library’s vision statement to foster knowledge and promote active learning and critical thinking. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Students visit this accessible and comfortable place away from home to collaborate and study, while teachers enjoy a supportive atmosphere for casual instruction and mentoring.

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