O'Donnell's Neighborhood Mini-Library Leaves Something, and Nothing, Behind
A project that is part reading room, part bookstack, and part stage opened in June at a community garden in the Riverside neighborhood of Buffalo, New York. Created under the direction of CODA, the firm of architecture's Edgar A. Tafel Associate Professor Caroline O'Donnell, Tripe (An Offally Little Library) is a permanent outdoor mini-library that was one of six winners in the Buffalo Architecture Foundation's 2017 Little Free Library (LFL) competition.
Named for a "nose-to-tail" culinary tradition, the project was an experiment in material efficiency. CODA designed Tripe to be bookcases, space to read, and seats combined. Using robotic Computer Numerical Control (CNC) milling at AAP's fabrication shops, a screen of etched plywood panels was constructed from "leftovers" in the production of the project's 36 reading stools. Cutouts in the screen include waterproof book boxes as well as slots for storing the stools when not in use. The screen sits on a platform that functions as a reading area and stage.
"This kind of project allows us to experiment with how we can use materials thoughtfully without wasting anything, and how we can communicate and provoke others to think about their own practices with waste," O'Donnell said.
The LFL competition jury selected Tripe out of entries from seven states and four countries. The project met the competition's design considerations to create a distinctive architectural style, shelter the contents of the library from the elements, provide easy visual access to the contents, and use recycled, reclaimed, or sustainable materials. LFL committee chair and steward Matthew Etu said that the concept CODA submitted was immediately recognized for its creativity, ingenuity, and singularity.
"O'Donnell and her team were responsive to critique," Etu said. "Despite budgetary constraints, they voluntarily increased the scope of their build to triple its original size, increasing the volume of reading material and providing a multifunctional installation." The winning teams were paired with hosts in underserved neighborhoods of Buffalo and each received a modest stipend to build and install their libraries last spring.
O'Donnell said CODA is interested in work that is complete only when the "final material" — the community — is added. "The local people activate this piece by removing and replacing the stools, and using the stools for reading circles or for audience seating when the stage is used for performance," she said.
Project leader Alireza Shojakhani (M.Arch. '18) agreed, saying Tripe had two lives. "First, when it was designed and fabricated inside the design studio, and second as it became an active member of the neighborhood. The community's involvement and interaction make our life and work as designers more meaningful."
"It's a very small project, but it is important for us to do things that make a difference in the world," O'Donnell added. "The importance of access to books should not be underestimated."
The CODA team included Shojakhani along with others who worked on the project at various stages of development: Mwanzaa Brown (M.Arch. '18), Laura-India Garinois (B.Arch. '17), Yue (Maria) Ma (M.Arch. '18), Evan McDowell (B.Arch. '19), Travis Nissen (M.Arch. '17), Elizabeth Saleh (M.Arch. '14), and Hana Svatos-Raznjevic (B.Arch. '15). Advising and assisting with the project were Martin Miller, associate professor of the practice in architecture; Frank Parish, director of facilities at AAP; and AAP shop technicians Kurt Brosnan, Tyler Williams, and Nicholas Mino. The Buffalo Architecture Foundation, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, and members of the local community also participated.
By Patti Witten