Varina Area Library / BCWH Architects


© Chris Cunningham

© Chris Cunningham
  • Architects: BCWH Architects
  • Location: Henrico County, VA, United States
  • Architects In Charge: Charles W. Wray, Jeffery M. Hoover, Andrea Quilici, Kylan Shirley
  • Area: 44000.0 ft2
  • Project Year: 2016
  • Photographs: Chris Cunningham
  • Associate Architect: Tappé Architects
  • Civil Engineering: Vanesse Hangen Brustlin, Inc.
  • Landscape Architecture: Waterstreet Studio
  • Structural Engineering: Dunbar Milby Williams Pittman & Vaughan
  • Mpe: Ascent Engineering Group
  • Sustainability Design: Sustainable Design Consulting, Inc.
  • Audiovisual Design: The Sextant Group
  • Cost Consultant: Construction Cost Stystems

© Chris Cunningham

© Chris Cunningham

From the architect. The new 43,885SF Varina Area Library was envisioned as a place for individual transformation and community advancement as well as a hub for learning. Building on our client’s model for library service, we strove to discern those elements of library design embodying ideas, initiatives and innovations uniquely suited to this library for this particular community.


© Chris Cunningham

© Chris Cunningham

First, we embraced the idea that the Library should reflect and reinforce local culture and character. This library is rooted in its natural environment as much as it is rooted in the community. It is configured to be a series of pavilions emerging from and cascading down the landscape. The forms of the pavilions reflect the community’s vernacular architectural heritage, being vaguely reminiscent of a collection of tobacco barns. A simple palette of building materials inside and out reinforces this concept.


© Chris Cunningham

© Chris Cunningham

Second, we created an active library where productive people can engage with collections, librarians, other patrons, and their own ambitions. The design supports group collaboration projects, individuals needing focused concentration, and provides spaces to be creative – both digitally and tangibly. In addition to having a great community meeting room, with a teaching kitchen, various spaces around the collections are configured for people to productively use information themselves, share information with others, complete projects (alone or in groups), garner new perspectives and create new information.  Some pavilions have more of a collections focus, punctuated with daylit environments for enhanced learning with bucolic views.  These spaces are flanked by group spaces in a variety of formats – from traditional study tables to soft seating and coffee tables 


© Chris Cunningham

© Chris Cunningham

Upper Level Plan

Upper Level Plan

© Chris Cunningham

© Chris Cunningham

Next, we wanted a welcoming design made for “easy shopping.” The Library configuration recognizes that active lives sometimes require “grab and go” transactions. Therefore, the library’s design incorporates wide aisles and shelves at convenient heights which tilt the books’ titles up for easier viewing and selecting. Also, many will appreciate the full service drive-up window.  Additionally, the library entrance is purposefully “de-formalized” to establish a “side-door” welcoming approach, coming in between two pavilions.  This character is reinforced by setting up each pavilion with a “back porch” overlook to the woods.


© Chris Cunningham

© Chris Cunningham

The space between the primary pavilions cascades from the entry level down the slope of the site to the woods.  This space leads to the Children’s Library as well as the Community Gathering spaces.  This in-between space is employed to enhance local networking by providing space for ad hoc encounters on the monumental steps and at the café space and terrace at the bottom. This space also serves as an occasional venue for viewing movies.


© Chris Cunningham

© Chris Cunningham

© Chris Cunningham

© Chris Cunningham

The architecture of the Varina Area Library identifies itself as a reflection of the community’s aspirations for cultural and individual advancement while also being a logical extension of the history that shaped local community culture. Our goal was to make this library relevant, useful, and productive for the emerging generations of library users in this part of Henrico County.


© Chris Cunningham

© Chris Cunningham

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