Beauty scale

Sir David Adjaye’s new Winter Park Library is a major achievement

In the late 1800s, long before the Magic Kingdom of Walt Disney World was created, swaggering Northeastern industrialists envisioned an entirely different kind of park in the lush lands of central Florida. Looking for a sunny place to pass the cold months, they settled in a majestic forest, resplendent with lakes among the trees, about eight miles from present-day Orlando. The area was surveyed and mapped, and in 1887 Winter Park was born.

Today, it’s a town of 30,000, mostly white and wealthy, overflowing with signs that say, “It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,” a nod to Rollins College graduate Fred Rogers. local. If the patina looks too good to be true, that’s because it is. A racist infrastructure was embedded at its very base, with marginal segregation.

Now, the recently opened $41.7 million, 52,000 square foot Winter Park Library and Events Center was designed by Adjaye Associates (which is best known for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, DC), reckon with this complicated heritage.

Although there have been negative reactions to the project from locals who prefer the Mediterranean and Spanish revival status quo, the firm’s director, Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye, said that it was intended only to cultivate “common ground”.

“What I wanted to do”, says Adjaye GTC“was to create a public place, first and foremost, that Everybody together.”

The $41.7 million Winter Park Library and Events Center is Sir David Adjaye’s fifth and most ambitious library design.


Russell Crader, the company’s associate director who oversaw the project, notes that even today there is an “implicit doorway” to Winter Park. In 1881, on the west side of what was then the South Florida Railroad, a lot called Hannibal Square was set up for the area’s predominantly black, low-wage domestic labor force. , thereby establishing a divide that can still be felt in a subtle, muted way. manners of your 140 years later. In the mid-1960s, Interstate 4 was completed, further adding to racial segregation and uneven economic development. Located on a 23-acre site that includes Martin Luther King Jr. Park, the new library and event center is poised to recalibrate the city westward. It also forms a monumental public landmark.

For Adjaye, it is the deep divisions of the city that pushed him to embark on the adventure. “Honestly,” he tells me, “the reason I did it was because of those contradictions. The library is primarily intended for the poor community, which has very little public infrastructure. »

david ajaye
Sir David Adjaye.


In the 20th century, there were actually two libraries in Winter Park: Hannibal Square, which opened in 1937 and catered primarily to African Americans on the west side of town, and the Winter Park Library, which dates back to 1894 and was widely used by white residents in the east. Due to dilapidation and insufficient funding, the former was incorporated into the latter in 1979. Only now, more than 40 years later, does this bucolic hamlet have a library intentionally built to all.

“It’s imperative for people in positions like mine, especially white leaders, to make sure the scaffolding of our culture is correct,” says Betsy Gardner Eckbert, CEO of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce. “When we are successful, we can really start pushing people towards a different way of experiencing community.”

david adjaye winter park library
In an area dominated by theme parks, Adjaye’s audacious set of three buildings is “a place for civic discourse”, says the library’s general manager, Sabrina Bernat.

Dror Baldinger/Courtesy of Adjaye Associates

As with most of Adjaye’s projects, the library and events center functions as what he would call a “climate moderator”, the phrase being a reference to British architects Alison and Peter Smithson. Arched, pink-pigmented concrete structures are designed to withstand hurricanes while still bringing in natural light and offering sweeping views of the surrounding park through large windows.

“It’s not work. It’s not school. It’s a place where you can go and to be“, explains Sabrina Bernat, director general of the library. Despite its sprawling size and considerable mass, the Library and Events Center features a vaulted frame that sits elegantly in its location, on a gazebo overlooking a lake.

david adjaye winter park library
Exterior of Winter Park Library by Adjaye Associates.

Courtesy of Adjaye Associates

Inside the two-story library there is a flexible inner core with moveable walls that includes an ‘Imagination Room’, ‘Community Room’, Maker Space, ‘Memory Lab’ and archives. In the center is a spectacular circular staircase, similar to that of the Smithsonian museum in Adjaye.

The project has raised eyebrows among residents and city commissioners for its scale and cost. Funded by $30 million in voter-approved bonds in 2016 (plus $6 million in Orange County Tourism Development Tax money, as well as various private donations and grants), the center has been stalled. on several occasions, once by an unsuccessful lawsuit brought by a group of the residents (whom city officials did consider rowdy) and a proposed stop work order. As of 2014, there have been well over 100 town commissioner meetings and working sessions on the project, with wrangling over costs and minute details.

David Adjaye Adam Pendleton

“[Commissioners] fought this building tooth and nail,” says Adjaye. “I couldn’t believe the level of resistance.” Bernat sees the situation a little differently. “I always think of Leslie Knope from Parks and recreation,” she says. “‘What I hear when people yell at me is that people really care about me.’ That’s a lot of what happened here. There’s a lot of enthusiasts involved. In the end, it made it a better project.

The Adjaye Library and Event Center would be an amazing addition to any town, but especially Central Florida, which is most famous for the sleek, hyper-streamlined Walt Disney World and Universal theme parks. Fittingly, its design will eliminate many of the physical constraints and space limitations of the old library building. “These chains will go away,” says City Manager Randy Knight. A statement, it is hoped, that also applies to the city.

For his part, Adjaye aspired to build nothing less than a lasting monument “constructed as a brilliant and very positive form intended to numb negativity”. In short, a civic palace… for the people.

This story appears in the February 2022 issue of City & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW

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