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Hamilton Mill - Sustainable Library Branch

Gwinnett County Public Library
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Innovation Summary

The Hamilton Mill Branch of the Gwinnett Counted Public Library (GCPL) provides 21st century customer-focused library services in a state of the art, ecologically-friendly facility. Uniting the pursuit of knowledge with an appreciation of the natural world, the branch is thoughtful mix of epic grandeur and natural simplicity.

Problem Statement

“A library is in essence a celebration of … the human capacity to contemplate, question, reason, and wonder at, the vast universe of which we are a part.” - Maria Artemis, Hamilton Mill Branch Artist Gwinnett Counted Public Library wanted to design and build a branch that would demonstrate how public buildings can best address the needs of the community by incorporating methods that are practical, sustainable, aesthetically pleasing, and fiscally responsible. The Hamilton Mill branch makes true companions of artistry and sustainability. The surrounding area is wooded and filled with natural light, something that should be exploited in the design, inviting nature into the library experience. The branch needed an ambience and sense of openness that would encourage visitors to linger while practical features needed to contribute to the conservation of energy, water and natural resources. Design must enhance work flow and air quality, while diminishing noise and waste. The staff and customer experience can be addressed through the implementation of a design that could address artistry and sustainability with our commitment to contemporary library service. The concept of customer choice must be addressed and customers should be given the opportunity to decide just how much interaction they want—or do not want—with library staff—a nod to both the importance of the venerable staff-customer relationship and the rapid pace of contemporary life that recognizes the need customers have for quick transactions.


Upon entering the branch, one’s eyes are drawn to the massive northern glass wall. The branch is designed around orientation to the sun and all regularly occupied areas are day lit, reducing the reliance on artificial heat and illumination. Glass panels feature art and text and 35 green leaf-shaped text panels are located throughout the branch, providing information on the ecological aspects of the building—whimsically emphasizing for our customers the practical and beneficial aspects of sustainability. The branch ceiling is faint blue and floor colors are brown and green reflecting the colors of the natural world. Wide aisles and lower shelving preserve sightlines; computer stations attached to endcaps, give users the unique experience of being surrounded by the collection as they search its contents online; superior acoustics improve concentration and conversations are effectively masked so that staff can assist customers and students can work in groups without disturbing others; air quality is cmonitored by the use of carbon dioxide and humidity sensors, and low-toxicity materials give the branch a vitalizing ambiance . An expansive line of sight from the Help Desk encourages staff to assist customers who might not ordinarily approach them for help, and can self-check stations allow you to checkout materials and pay fees, freeing staff to spend more time answering reference questions. Self-checks are located in the children’s area (facilitating the process for harried parents), and also near the customer holds pick-up area (for the quick, self-sufficient customer). Carpet backing, building brick, aluminum windows, and bamboo flooring are all made from recyclable materials, rubber floors in the children’s area are made from recycled car tires; recycle bins are conveniently located, parking provisions are made for fuel efficient and hybrid vehicles and a private employee shower is available for staff who choose to walk or bicycle to work.


Staff and customers have commented on the absence of chemical smells, pointing out the “refreshing, breathable space.” Some customers believe our dedication to hybrid parking is pre-mature, but most others are happy with our visionary approach. Contingency strategies were planned for sustainability features that were designed into the plans but not included due to budget constraints (like solar panels: the roof structure has been solar enabled for any future economically-friendly technologies that come along). The branch has emerged as a model of sustainability for public buildings and response to the design has been overwhelmingly positive, garnering praise from library leaders and planners, as well as the sustainability and design communities. The branch was the first public library in the state of Georgia to be awarded the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and was named one of Library Journal’s ten Landmark Libraries in 2011. The branch was the subject of both the September 2011 issue of Library Journal: Libraries by Design and the 2010 Winter issue of Georgia Library Quarterly and American Libraries Online cited the branch three times in March and April 2010 for its unique and innovative design. The branch was also included on the 2011 Architectural Tour. The library is confident that this recognition will provide momentum for other Metro Atlanta area designers to consider sustainable design and construction. Much of the visual beauty of the Hamilton Mill branch is often the consequence of a sustainable feature—a true integration of form and function. The design team was committed to both the physical nature of the building and the obligation to proclaim its service to the people, an exhilarating blend of the visual and literary that speaks to both the natural world and the nature of humanity.