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Restaurant, cooking demo space at heart of new library downtown

New Austin Public Library
LakeFlato Architects

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The new public library downtown won't open until 2016, but facilities manager John Gillum is already getting calls to reserve a 300-person event space that has its own catering kitchen.

But that won't be the only food element of the building, designed by the forward-thinking architects at LakeFlato in San Antonio, which worked in partnership with Shepley Bulfinch, a Boston firm. The 198,000 square-foot, $120 million library under construction at 710 W. Cesar Chavez St. will have both a full-service restaurant and one of the largest culinary demonstration spaces in the city.

LakeFlato's Steve Raike, one of the lead architects on the project, says that a modern, multi-functional library shouldn’t look like the library you remember as a child, but its purpose is still the same.

“Amazon has made us really think about this: If the information is really available in the palm of your hand, what is it about the library that is really important?” he says. “It’s where we gather as a community to learn and share ideas and to come together.”

Food spaces are a great way to draw people in and keep them there, engaging with one another and the building itself as much as the information tucked away in books on the shelves and down the infinite rabbit hole of Internet cables.

Cooking classes, for instance, are usually held in confined spaces with only a set number of spaces, Raike says, but we said, “wouldn’t it be great if instead of it being in a closed room, you could have it in this public space, so everybody who is in the library at the time can participate?”

The key to this solution was a moveable kitchen that LakeFlato’s Jonathan Smith designed with mobile ventilation and plumbing that could roll out of the way quickly on the floor of a sky light-lit, six-story atrium in the heart of the building.

“The design they came up with is really clever. (The kitchen) folds up so we can put it away when it’s not needed,” Gillum says.

Visiting chefs and cookbook authors could cook in front of an audience of 50 or 60 people, more than just about every other demonstration kitchen space in Austin. Gillum says they don’t plan to charge for the events or classes.

“We have so many amenities planned that they don’t have now, and of all of them, I think this one will be the most exciting. We’ll wish we brought in more seating.”

The library won’t be finished until 2016, but they’ve been working on the design since 2006 and food has been part of the conversation all along. (Another partner on the project is Austin's Urban Design Group.)

“As a nation, we’ve become a bunch of foodies, and it’s much more important to us than it used to be,” Gillum says. “Cookbooks are a booming part of our circulation. People love them, people use them,” so we know they’d be interested in having the opportunity to meet and hear from their authors in person.

But what will likely get the most attention from the public is an 80-seat restaurant located on the northeast corner of the building facing Second Street. The city is currently accepting proposals from independent vendors and restaurant owners who are interesting in leasing the space, whose hours would operate independently from the library’s.

In addition to a rooftop garden and public space, that large multi-use event space will offer activities such as film screenings, performances and book signings.

You can see daily images of the construction site at library.austintexas.gov/new-central-construction.

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