An extraordinary expression of library architecture stretching over the area of 75150 ft2, Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) Mary Idema Pew Library, Learning and Information Commons, is one of the most inspirational projects by a Canada-based architecture firm, Stantec. This project was awarded LEED Platinum Designation by the U.S. Green Building Council (U.S.G.B.C), making it the first library in the U.S. to be awarded the designation. GVSU, which was born out of an aspiration to design a library that would be more than the norm, is driven by the needs of the students in the current era and the evolving skills they would need in their future.  

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GVSU Pew Library_©James Haefner Photography and SHW Architects.

Stantec, An Overview

Intending to design for the community, Stantec is a group of innovative architects, engineers, scientists, and managers that believes in innovative architectural interventions to promote Sustainable architecture. Since its establishment in 1954 as D.R. Stanley Associates has provided consulting services in project management, engineering, interior design, and architecture. Stantec boasts 26,000 employees working from 400 locations on six continents worldwide today. Along with a promise of reducing environmental impacts while designing with the community in mind, Stantec also endeavours to improve social impacts through its design interventions. 

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GVSU Pew Library at Night_©James Haefner Photography and SHW Architects.

An Innovation in Architecture of Library

Stantec has designed a library with an automated storage and retrieval capacity of 600k books, which can be exchanged in minutes. This ensures the “removing” of the books to create more areas for student activities compared to conventional shelving books. With 1500 seats of 31 different types, including indoor and outdoor seating, every student is bound to find a corner of their own within this library. All these seats belong to various zones, ranging from monk-like spaces of no distraction for studying alone to high-energy zones for students working and collaborating in groups. In addition, the Innovation Zone has been designed so that elements ranging from furniture to other equipment are hand-picked to culture innovation in the students. These zones are so arranged that the noise level descends gradually as you ascend from the ground level to higher levels. 75% of the daylighting in the library is through natural lighting, a technique that contributed to the library being awarded the LEED Platinum Designation. 

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Outdoor Seating_© James Haefner Photography and SHW Architects

With a flexible design, Stantec has successfully designed a library that is conducive to bridging the gap between academics and the work environment, facilitated by flexible furniture, equipment, service points, seasonal outdoor spaces, and lighting. An intellectual heart of the campus today, the GVSU Pew Library is truly a piece of architecture that centres on the need and character of the community it was designed for, i.e. the students. Stantec has taken into account all the socio-psychological behaviour patterns, expectations, and requirements of students while designing this library which has given birth to a library that deviates from the pre-existing libraries that followed the typical traditional prototypes of what libraries should be. It addresses the physical, personal, social, and academic needs of every student of varying backgrounds and psychological needs. With an amalgamation of best practices in library design from around the world, this library truly stands as a testament to Stantec’s vision to build communities through architecture. 

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Curtain Wall Facade_©James Haefner Photography and SHW Architects

Every Seat is a Good Seat

A unique library where every seat is a good seat, GVSU Pew Library, in this exterior view, is embellished with natural stonework, which pays tribute to the rich architectural language prevalent in the Grand Valley. Besides that, Stantec’s use of natural stonework symbolically protects the invaluable knowledge, wisdom, and resources stored within. It also tells the story of a once heavily wooded site cascading through deep ravines to the banks of the Grand River, a rich history. With random patterns in the facade in Cambrian Cream limestone and Michigan fieldstone, the exterior narrates the intricate craftsmanship involved in the structure’s design.

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Removing of the Books_©James Haefner Photography and SHW Architects

Repeating the Cambrian cream limestone and Michigan fieldstone in the prominent interior areas and the external module creates a seamless flow between the interior and the exterior. With the beige limestone tiles on the floors and the main staircase with the repetition of an external module, the interior creates a vibrant and stimulating atmosphere for the students. The furnishing, undertaken by the team of SHW Group, now Stantec, GVSU, and Steelcase was followed by the study and research of various spaces facilitating individual and group studies and work. 

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Automated Book Storage and Retrieval System_© James Haefner Photography and SHW Architects.

A Sustainable Library

Everything from the organisation of the building in the site to the inclusion of natural light for daylighting, Stantec has built a sustainable structure for the library. Besides natural daylighting, the library is embellished with occupancy sensors, active window shades, and passive solar shading. The library not only predicts an annual energy use intensity that is a 44 per cent improvement over a code minimum building but also houses a complex HVAC system optimised for energy efficiency through a combination of techniques such as underfloor air distribution, wrap-around heat pipes, demand-controlled ventilation, radiant floors, etc. 

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Natural Day lighting_© James Haefner Photography and SHW Architects

Even during the construction, the team utilised preventive measures against pollution with recycling centres throughout the site. With efficient stormwater management, Stantec restored the historical drainage patterns for the southern half of the Allendale campus. The materials used were environmentally friendly, i.e. recycled and renewable. The site selection itself can be attributed to the walkability, access to public transportation, and the ease of cycling. Stantec has made visible efforts to design a structure that addresses and tackles today’s crisis of environmental impact aggravated by the construction industry.  

In a Nutshell

Stantec creates an elevated learning space where unexpected moments of encounter and engagements are ensured through the spaces for digital collaboration, pop-up events, speech practice and recordings, and other educational events and exhibits that make this library a truly unique academic space of the present. The playful placement of spaces, learning alcoves, lecture rooms, cafes, labs, and technology showcases by Stantec here and there allows a student to get immersed in the intricate weaving of spaces and activities. Moreover, facilities like the Knowledge Market, the North Plaza, doubling as an outdoor study space, an amphitheatre, and a glass-enclosed reading terrace in the centre of the third floor, to name a few, act as genuinely inspiring and stimulating bits of spaces for the students. The GSVU Mary Idema Pew Library truly is a testament to Stantec’s vision and promise of connecting communities. It is an example of how the sky is the limit when architects dedicate themselves to building communities through architecture.

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Front Facade at Night_©James Haefner Photography and SHW Architects


Grand Valley State University. (2022). Mary Idema Pew Library Vision and History – University Libraries – Grand Valley State University) [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2022]

ArchDaily. (2022). GVSU Pew Library / Stantec [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2022]

Stantec. (2022). GVSU – Mary Idema Pew Library [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2022]

Archello. (2022). Mary Idema Pew Library | Stantec, Steelcase [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2022] 

DwyerMarble. (2022). PS_GVSU Pew Library [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2022]


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