As a part of the Stantec/Snohetta Joint Venture, Stantec was commissioned to design Temple University’s new library for its main campus in North Philadelphia. It was responsible for architectural documentation, project management, and MEP/FP engineering services. According to the structural engineering firm Lera,  “This block-long building features a 3-story domed atrium with clear spans of up to 100 ft, a large front arch that cantilevers off of the building, green roofs and an outdoor balcony offering cross-campus views.”

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Charles Library_Michael Grimm

The Charles Library thus took form. It has tried to combine academic resources, disciplines and cutting-edge technology all under one roof and has helped in accelerating the progressive mission to provide equitable learning experiences for its students, faculty, and the surrounding community. As quoted on the official website of Temple University, ” The vision was a 21st century library that is a source of inspiration, an incubator for ideas, and a centre for engagement and collaboration. Charles is all of these things and more.”

Design Philosophy and Concept | Charles Library

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Arched entry to the library_httpswww.temple.eduaboutlibrariescharles

This library was conceptualised to serve as a cornerstone for the future of the campus. The heavy stone facade of the exterior reinforces this philosophy. “The building’s arched entries and expansive plazas extend a welcoming invitation to all visitors,” the architects quote. The design inspires students to engage more directly with the library’s activity by enhancing the visual and physical connectivity to academic resources. It also encourages learning through social interactions while providing spaces for the same. Charles Library serves as a central point of intersection between students, faculty, staff and the surrounding community. 

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Concept Development Renders by Lera_Lera Consulting Structural Engineers

From the Architectural and structural point of view, two very different concepts developed. One was a long-span gateway arch signifying the project as a portal to the University. The other was a long cantilever structure over a courtyard. Moving forward into the final design, the architect decided to combine both concepts into one. The design has elements from both – the arch, now into the interior of the building and the long cantilever.

Space Planning and Design Functionality

As stated by the architectural firm Stantec on their official website, “With 220,000 square feet of space, the library will accommodate the University’s 2.5 million volume collection, numerous prestigious special collections, student study space, research space, and staff areas. To encourage interaction among students and faculty, the building will house a 24-hour space, an expanded lobby, and a café. The stand-out feature, however, will be an automated storage retrieval system (ASRS) for storing the majority of the volumes in the collection.”

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One of the entrances to the library_Michael Grimm

Rectangular in plan, Charles Library has got an overarching entryway. With glass volume on top, it has split-faced granite at the bottom. The separate entrances to the building are marked by three different arched designs. Two of those are on the north side while the longer one stretches towards the west side. 

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Domed Atrium of the library_Michael Grimm
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Oculus_Michael Grimm

Upon entering is a bustling central atrium clad in wood and active 24 hours a day with a service desk, lobby area, a cafe, an exhibition area, an event space, a reading room and offices. The atrium is the library’s anchor offering views to nearly every corner of the building. The incredible curved surfaces of the atrium call your eye up to the opening on the fourth floor called the oculus. The lobby gets flooded with daylight filtering through the oculus excised from the dome above. A steel-clad central stair reaching the library’s highest level is among the most visible elements greeting the visitors. 

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Floor Plans of the library _httpswww.archdaily.com925180charles-library-at-temple-university-snohetta5d841efa284dd15
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Floor Plans of the library _httpswww.archdaily.com925180charles-library-at-temple-university-snohetta5d841eec284dd15
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Floor Plans of the library _httpswww.archdaily.com925180charles-library-at-temple-university-snohetta5d841eec284dd15
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Floor Plans of the library_httpswww.archdaily.com925180charles-library-at-temple-university-snohetta5d841f20284dd13

The first floor has a computer lab, writing centre, tutor area, instruction room and offices. Temple University Press office, more space for tutoring, a staff lounge, the Loretta C Duckworth Scholars Studio, offices and reading rooms are on the second floor with access to digital fabrication and technologies. Interiors are all done in white with ample natural light, floors in grey and furniture in pops of colour like green, red and orange. The third floor serves as the main library space wrapped in glass walls. Private study rooms are situated along the perimeter with the reading spaces available at the north and south ends. This floor has the traditional library setting with over 50 rows of pale green storage volumes housing roughly 200,000 books. These storage stacks span across the central space of the rectangular top floor.

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Glass facade for maximum daylight_Michael Grimm

Materials and Construction

In a bid in 2016, the structural design of the building changed from almost all concrete to almost all steel. Thus the entire structure had to be reworked with steel as the base material. The structure of the building has also been engineered to support the weight of the building-wide green roof. Long-span structural trusses and steel framing are used in the structural system for the library.

The main entrance_Michael Grimm

The base of the building has been clad in vertical split-faced granite sections with grand wooden arches cutting into this stone volume. This was done intentionally to give the effect that they are “cut into the stone volume”. The materials used reference the surrounding campus context. The glass volumes at the three main entrances help create maximum transparency. To match with the exterior accents, the triple-height atrium and the lobby are also covered in wood. The cedar-clad ceiling supported by slanting white pillars is positioned inwards from the curtain walls.

Lobby Area_Michael Grimm

Notable Elements

Automated Storage and Retrieval System(ASRS) BookBot_Michael Grimm
Automated Storage and Retrieval System(ASRS) BookBot_Michael Grimm

Charles Library has a unique high-density automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) called ‘BookBot’. This system can currently store 1.5 million volumes with a capacity of nearly 2 million. It occupies around one-third of the space on each floor resulting in increased space for academic resources, collaborative learning and individual study space.

View from the study space on fourth floor_Michael Grimm
Green Roof Meadow_Michael Grimm

Charles Library is a sustainable building. A large four-floor terrace cantilevers beyond the building’s footprint. All the available sloping roof that wraps over the building is the green roof. Measuring 47,300 square feet (4,394 square metres), it is visible from almost everywhere on the top level. The green roof “offers an unexpected retreat that feels embedded in nature,” said Snøhetta. Around 15 variety of plant species are planted on the roof, making it a “rich urban habitat for pollinators”. The roof has also been designed to accommodate a stormwater management system for Temple University.


References List | Charles Library

  1. Temple University – Charles Library – Stantec (no date) Stantec – Temple University – Charles Library. Stantec. Available at: (Accessed: April 8, 2023). 
  2. Charles Library at Temple University (no date) Charles Library at Temple University – Snøhetta. Available at: (Accessed: April 8, 2023). 
  3. Hernández, D. (2019) Charles Library at Temple University / Snøhetta, ArchDaily. ArchDaily. Available at: (Accessed: April 8, 2023). 
  4. Bridget Cogley |24 September 2019 Leave a comment (2019) Snøhetta Designs Temple University’s Charles Library with “unusual geometry”, Dezeen. Available at: (Accessed: April 8, 2023). 
  5. Charles Library at Temple University (no date) The American Institute of Architects. Available at: (Accessed: April 8, 2023). 
  6. Temple University Library (no date) lera. Available at: (Accessed: April 8, 2023). 
  7. Inside look: Take a tour of Charles Library (2019) YouTube. YouTube. Available at: (Accessed: April 8, 2023). 
  8. 2022 Aisc Ideas² Awards finalist: Charles Library at Temple University (2022) YouTube. YouTube. Available at: (Accessed: April 8, 2023). 

Shashvi Dalal is a space designer by profession and a writer by passion. Words sometimes become her safe space to escape reality and dive into the deep world of creativity. Having learnt storytelling, she loves weaving stories around her designs and vice versa.