Project Profiles: Education

James Branch Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond

Retrofit Team

Design Architect: Shepley Bulfinch, Boston
Architect of Record: Moseley Architects, Richmond, Va.
Construction Manager at Risk: W.M. Jordan Co., Richmond
Civil Engineer: VHB, Richmond
M/E/P Engineer: Affiliated Engineers Inc., Atlanta
Structural Engineer: Dunbar Milby Williams Pittman & Vaughan PLLC, Richmond
Lighting Consultant: Collaborative Lighting LLC, Concord, Mass.
Cost Consultant: Daedalus Projects Inc., Boston

The renovated Cabell Library includes new construction and improvements to the existing library space.

The renovated Cabell Library includes new construction and improvements to the existing library space.


Dedicated in March 2016, Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU’s) newly expanded and renovated Cabell Library includes 156,000 square feet of new construction and improvements to existing library space, providing VCU’s 31,000 students with more space to study, collaborate, discover, create and conduct research.

The new addition’s glass, limestone and metal exterior envelops the original building’s northern side and wraps around a portion of the eastern façade. As a counterpoint to the opaqueness of the existing library, the exterior walls at the northeast corner are entirely glass, making the activity within visible to passersby. Expanses of the new façade feature limestone panels with large windows, filling the space with daylight.

The original building’s exposed precast panels were re-clad with the same limestone veneer used on the addition. The designers responded to the verticality of the original building’s slot windows with a series of glass fins that provide solar shading and repeat the rhythm in a lighter, more accessible way.

The following materials highlight the project:
Curtainwall: EFCO Corp.
Metal Composite Panels: ALPOLIC
Insulated Core Metal Panels: Kingspan
Glass Wall Panels: Modern Door
Hardware for Glass Wall Panels: dormakaba
Wood Panels: Campostella Builders & Supply
LED Strips: Finelite

The Retrofit

VCU’s Cabell Library, which is among the busiest academic libraries in Virginia, was built in 1970 and expanded to its current five floors in 1975. Originally designed as a facility whose primary function was to store collections, the library faced a dire need for “people-focused” spaces to serve more than 2 million visitors annually. The $50.8 million project transformed the introverted precast concrete box of the existing Brutalist library into a civic and campus landmark that provides students and faculty with a beautiful and light-filled academic library of the future.

Ninety percent of the library space is designed specifically for student use, and it doubles existing seating capacity to nearly 3,000.

Ninety percent of the library space is designed specifically for student use, and it doubles existing seating capacity to nearly 3,000.

Designed to be as flexible and operationally efficient as it is engaging and inviting, the new library introduces a range of multi-use spaces for study and focused and collaborative work. Ninety percent of the space was designed specifically for student use, and the new library doubles existing seating capacity to nearly 3,000. Patrons are pulled vertically through the building via a series of open stairs with each new vista offering a sense of beauty and delight and higher floors providing progressively quieter areas.

Designed to achieve LEED Silver certification, the building’s features include:

  • New student-focused spaces featuring 25 group study rooms; two large state-of-theart classrooms; and a third-floor “reading porch” with outdoor-style furniture, ceiling fans and windows that open.
  • An area dedicated to video and audio production and editing, digitization, high-end computing and equipment loans.
  • A 2-story daylight-filled lobby with expanded ground-floor café that further boosts the library’s role as a gathering place.
  • A new third-floor, 300-seat multi-functional event space, featuring a mosaic video wall. The entire north side of the room is a moveable glass wall that opens to a large outdoor terrace.
  • A “silent space” on the fourth and highest floor—a label requested and enforced by students.
  • A dedicated faculty and graduate research center in a large glassed-in fourth-floor room that offers expansive views of the Monroe Park Campus.

“With the Cabell Library project, we had the unique opportunity to create a library that embraces our robust campus community and announces VCU’s prominence as a world-class research institution,” explains John E. Ulmschneider, VCU librarian. “Shepley Bulfinch has designed an extraordinary new building that evolves our collective understanding of what a library can and should mean. The result is an academic library that stands unique in Virginia, and rare nationally, for its architectural beauty, functionality and immense utility to students.”

The Cabell Library project received the first-place honor in Library Journal’s New Landmark Libraries Award competition, one of only 10 projects nationally recognized with this honor.

Photos: Robert Benson Photography

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